Education issues a Concern for Ontario Public School Boards Association

NANOS Poll Canadian Politics

Canadian PoliticsTHUNDER BAY – Lori Lukinuk shares, “As the 1st Vice President of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, I have attached a document that OPSBA has developed for Federal candidates in the upcoming election.   Trustees around the province are encouraged to seek opinions from all parties as to their thoughts and platforms on these issues.”

Here are the issues that the Ontario Public School Board’s Association is examining:

Children and Youth Mental Health

Investing in the mental health and well-being of children and youth is an investment in Canada’s civic and economic future.  Dollars invested now will save lives and be returned with interest in the years ahead.

  • 1 in 5 children are diagnosed but only 1 in 6 receives the treatment they need.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people in Canada between the ages of 15 and 24 and nearly 25% of all annual deaths for this age group are attributed to suicide.
  • Mental health problems interfere with personal development and academic success
  • 50 % of all lifetime cases of mental illness start by age 14 and 75% by the age of 24
  • Only 5.5 % of our healthcare dollars in Canada are dedicated to mental illness

Mental health problems in children and youth are not new; they have been with us for decades.  Yet we continue to see services for children and youth mental health undermined through the fragmented approaches that still prevail in this country.

An integrated approach that includes collaboration across the sectors that serve children is essential. This with young lives being so dramatically affected there is a need to accelerate the efforts to leverage effective and evidence based practices across the country.  These issues are not the responsibility of one individual sector.   They are complex and require layers of coordination and funding across all sectors. They require a national strategy for children’s mental health that will ensure facilitated access to timely, integrated, responsive and equitable children and youth mental health services across Canada.  We need a strategy that engages all political parties to support this much needed multi-sectoral approach.

The diverse and varied needs of all children and youth need to be adequately reflected in planning and implementation. The gaps in services and supports are significant in the general population and even more so for Aboriginal, northern and rural communities.  Many Francophone communities are especially underserved in terms of access to services in French.

This national strategy needs to recognize and support all components within the full continuum of mental health services:

  • Mental health literacy for all adults working directly with children
  • Mental health literacy for children and youth themselves
  • Mental health and wellness promotion-which is promotion of positive social-emotional development
  • Equitable and consistent access to services
  • Prevention of mental health problems
  • Early intervention and intervention services
  • Clear pathways to care

Questions for Candidates —Children and Youth Mental Health

How would you and your party work collaboratively with the provinces to ensure that Canada takes swift action to develop a National Mental Health Strategy that includes a particular focus on children and youth?

What would you do differently to make sure there is adequate funding to address the crisis of children and youth mental health across this country?

What particular strategies would you employ to make sure there is equitable access to supports and services in Canada’s northern and rural areas, for Aboriginal peoples, for Francophone communities and for newcomers settling in Canada?

First Nations Children and Youth

The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA) wants to see that children in schools in First Nations communities have the same opportunities and the same level of resources as children in Ontario’s publicly funded schools.  If and when First Nations children make a transition from their community school to a provincial school, we want that transition to be as easy as possible for them.  It is not at all easy to leave your community and travel to a school full of strangers. It is unbelievably more difficult if the children in that “stranger” school have had incredibly greater advantages in their education and have had access to resources that you never had.

That, however, is the sad truth about education for a great many First Nation children in Canada. Schools in First Nation communities are seriously underfunded and are starved for the kinds of resources that are common in the provincial publicly funded school system.  An effective school is about a lot more than a teacher together with children in a classroom.  An effective school is housed in a building that is safe, sound and welcoming.  An effective school has a library and a gym; it has computers and extra-curricular activities; it has teachers who are supported by curriculum leaders and who get regular professional development; it has special education services; it has regular maintenance and information systems that support it every day and help it to run well for the benefit of children.  The funding of schools in First Nation communities does not provide for all of these things and the children suffer for it. According to the Auditor General’s report, it will take 28 years to close the gap in educational achievement between First Nation children and children in the rest of Canada. They don’t get everything they are entitled to in the schools of their communities and when they go to provincial schools they suffer again for all the things they were entitled to and didn’t get.

OPSBA wants to see an end to this inequity. We need Indian and Northern Affairs Canada to step up and do what report after report has told them to do:  Fund education in First Nation communities so that First Nation children can get the head start they need and get the chances they deserve in school and in life.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” Bishop Desmond Tutu

Questions for Candidates —First Nation, Métis and Inuit Education

How would you and your party work collaboratively with Indigenous peoples in Canada toward the full and effective implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?

How will you and your political party work to secure federal funding commitments that will ensure equitable funding and equity of opportunity for education in First Nation communities?

How will you and your political party work with First Nation, Métis and Inuit leaders, as well as provincial Ministries of Education to ensure that First Nation, Métis and Inuit children have every opportunity to attain an education comparable to children in the rest of Canada?

Child Poverty

Single parents, Indigenous peoples, new immigrants, people with disabilities, and older adults experience unacceptably high rates of poverty. 42 percent of urban Indigenous people live in poverty. 65 percent of new immigrants experience poverty sometime during their first 10 years in Canada. In 2005, 788,000 Canadian children lived in poverty. 38 percent of families headed by a single parent live in poverty

At the same time, incomes of senior managers in Canada increased 86 percent between 1993 and 2003, while incomes of people in low-skilled jobs increased by only 13 percent.

Poverty is an all too prevalent condition that has an impact on the readiness of children to learn and calls equally for concerted efforts and strong levels of advocacy. On November 24, 1989, the House of Commons resolved to seek “to achieve the goal of eliminating poverty among Canadian children by the year 2000.” This resolution passed by a unanimous vote of all parties. Twenty years later, Campaign 2000’s most recent report card found that 1 in 10 children still live in poverty – the figure is 1 in 4 for First Nations children – and the gap between the rich and the poor is getting even wider.

Questions for Candidates —Child Poverty

Will you work to ensure your party adopts recommendations to invest in early childhood education and care?

Will you work to ensure your party adopts recommendations to increase the Canada Child Tax Benefit, expand eligibility for EI, invest in social housing and increase the federal minimum wage?

Will you and your party support the recommendations of the HUMA Committee Report (Federal Poverty Reduction Plan, Report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities) for ending poverty in Canada by recommending goals, timelines, and investments in family benefits, affordable housing, early learning and child care, and good jobs at living wages?

Settlement Services for Immigrant Children and Youth

Ontario receives more than half of the immigrant families who arrive in Canada each year. The children from these families attend publicly funded schools and their needs extend far beyond what is typically found in the education funding envelope and yet has a direct impact on achievement for immigrant students.  School boards need to be able to assure their capacity to provide the services that new families need to settle and integrate successfully into life in Canada.

In December 2010 the federal government announced cuts to settlement funding, ranging from 15 to 40 per cent, that have a severe impact on vital programs that support newcomer children and their families. Programs include Settlement Workers in Schools (SWIS) program, Refugee Assistance Programs, Reception Centres, and Cultural Interpretative Services, and other related services. These cuts have a profound effect on the capacity of the school system to serve newcomer children and their families.  Many newcomers are also government assisted refugees who require long-term assistance with settlement and integration and are particularly impacted by cuts to services.

The evidence has shown that settlement programs and services at the school level have continuously benefitted families and have made a measurable difference to students and their adjustment to school in Canada. When services are cut, the casualties are the families who chose Canada as their new home.

Questions for Candidates—Settlement Services for Immigrant Children and Youth

Will you and your party undertake to restore the funding for settlement services that was recently cut by the federal government?

What will you and your party put in place to ensure that newcomer families to Canada, and in particular children who are integrating into the school system, have full and timely access to settlement services to support adjustment to life in Canada?

How will you and your party uphold Canada’s humanitarian and international obligation to provide protection to thousands of refugees every year? How will you ensure this is done?

Amendment to the Criminal Code

There is a vital public safety issue affecting half the population of Canada that can no longer be ignored. An omission in the Criminal Code provisions on Public Incitement of Hatred results in the complete exclusion of girls and women as a group entitled to protection from such crimes. This puts the Criminal Code at odds with Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which specifically mandates that equal access to the protection of Canadian laws be granted to girls and women. Currently, the Criminal Code provisions on Public Incitement of Hatred only protect those identified by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin and sexual orientation.

Public incitement of hatred is prohibited in the Criminal Code because it is an acknowledged contributing factor in encouraging violence and discrimination against a target group. Omitting girls and women from the list compromises their safety.

In his book Race Against Time, Canadian humanitarian Stephen Lewis wrote, “I would argue that this is what always happens where the rights and needs of women are concerned: an inexplicable willingness to let things slide, an inescapable drift to inertia.”

Will Canada continue to let this slide? Making this change to the Criminal Code sends a strong message that we as a society will no longer tolerate this failure to protect half of our citizens.

Questions for Candidates—Amendment to the Criminal Code

Will you and your party commit to amending the Criminal Code so that women and girls, as a group, are included in the provisions dealing with public incitement of hatred?

Public Infrastructure

Since 2009, the Federal Government has poured billions into infrastructure renewal projects across Canada. This included investing significant dollars in the construction and renewal of post-secondary institutions through the Knowledge Infrastructure Program (KIP). Colleges and universities, with their slice of that stimulus pie, have been eagerly upgrading and modernizing their facilities. This is a good thing. Supporters of education are pleased that tomorrow’s post-secondary learners will eventually benefit from these 21st century learning environments.

However, it is a fact that today those same students are sitting in out-dated science labs and classrooms.  Not a single penny of federal infrastructure money has gone toward renewing aging elementary and high schools, because school boards did not meet federal funding eligibility criteria. Hundreds of public schools were built during the baby boom, many others are even older. They are overdue for renewal. This includes basic projects to deal with leaky roofs and antiquated boilers but also has implications for upgrading schools with modern science labs, technology and other facilities to meet 21st century learning needs. The costs to do so are in the billions.

School renewal is an issue in which every member of the community has a stake. Parents are drawn to healthy, inspiring learning environments with integrated services like childcare. Employers seek creative graduates with knowledge and advanced technical skills gained in cutting-edge classrooms. Active, engaged seniors are eager for accessible recreational, social and life-long learning opportunities close to home.

Questions for Candidates—Public Infrastructure

What will you and your party do to put such a vital resource as Canada’s public schools on the list when it comes to allocating public infrastructure funding?

Goods and Services Tax (GST)

While school board revenue sources differ across the country, it is safe to say that provincial government grants generally comprise the major source of revenue for school boards; usually over 85%.  There are some provinces where government revenue sources represent essentially 100% of board budgets.

Charging the GST on school board purchases means that the federal government is, in effect, taxing money that school boards received as a consequence of transfer payments and/or provincial taxation.  It is clearly a form of double taxation costing boards millions of dollars and it makes no sense.

The GST is a burden that exacerbates the struggles of school boards across the country to continuously strive to innovate, to streamline, or become more effective with restricted resources. The GST further imposes a complicated and expensive administrative burden.  Its current system of rebates, claims, and payments has become onerous and complex, forcing school boards to engage experts to help them obtain the largest rebates possible while complying with regulations.  The federal government is offering courses to boards to help deal with the complexity.

This is not about the federal government sending money to school boards; it is about stopping the claw-back of the support provided through federal transfer payments. It makes no sense that school boards, as publicly funded – taxpayer funded ? institutions, should be paying the Goods and Services Tax.

Questions for Candidates—Goods and Services Tax

Will you and your party commit to addressing the double taxing situation that school boards experience and provide an exemption from the GST for publicly funded school boards?

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