Lecce touts more investment for back-to-school plan

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce, August 7, 2020. (Photo taken from YouTube.)

The Ontario Ministry of Education has pledged to “unlock” additional resources for helping school resume safely in September.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams announced Thursday that the province would allow school boards to access nearly $500-million in reserve funds. The move is meant to ensure that physical distancing in classrooms is made easier, direct funding to use of non-school community spaces, and allow boards to make specific adjustments needed.

“We have demonstrated throughout this outbreak that we will deliver the strongest and safest plan in Canada for Ontario students, with a recognition that we will continuously strengthen it over time,” said Lecce. “This investment and access to reserves will enable more social distancing and improve air quality, and ultimately strengthen the layers of protection to keep students and staff safe.”

The province has called for $496 million in reserve funding by allowing boards to access up to two per cent of their operating budgets from their previous year’s accumulated surplus. For boards without sufficient legroom, the government will provide up to an additional $11 million.

Also, $50 million has been set aside in one-time funding to improve HVAC systems, ventilation, and air quality in school buildings. Boards will focus on improving air systems in older buildings as well as portable classrooms, and in neighbourhoods with a high risk of COVID-19 transmission.

To support remote learning, the ministry has prepared PPM 164, a memo to school boards guiding study-at-home models. An additional $18 million in funding will go to boards to hire principal and administrative support to oversee live, remote learning.

The announcement came after members of Ontario’s opposition parties and education unions expressed concern about the original back-to-school plan from the government. Criticism for the plan has included the need for more funding to enable social distancing.