Thursday, March 22, 2012

Latest Toronto School Board Plan Proves No Accountability in Special Education

The Toronto District School Board is considering a proposal to balance its budget by reducing educational assistants by 87% (reducing 493.5 full time equivalent positions to just 63.5 positions).  The stated reasoning is to hire 400 early childhood educators to fulfill the board's requirements in implementing full-day learning for four and five year old students.

Special education funding is very seriously misused in Ontario.  Although money is allocated for special education, it is given to each school board to do with as it pleases (a fact stated by an education official in the above article:
A spokesman for the education ministry, Grahame Rivers, said funding for the TDSB has increased since 2003.

Ultimately, it is the TDSB’s decision how to best allocate resources in Toronto schools,” he said.
 Funding is increasing, but funding does not follow each student.  It is allocated based on the needs of the board.  In this way, "special education funding" is a joke - there is no accountability in the way the funds are spent.  Why even bother having distinct funding streams if the boards can spend any way they please?

How is it fair that hundreds of students with special needs are having support staff taken away so that hundreds of four and five year old children have a longer school day?  Schools will do what they can, but the result of this change will result in most students not attending school or attending with reduced hours.  Luckily A is not yet in school, but if she were (and she is old enough to go into early years education) there is no way she could attend without support and actually learn anything.

Some of you may disagree with me on this, but I don't even believe full-day early learning is needed.  I believe it is a back-door way of getting free childcare in Ontario so that parents get a free ride.

Interestingly, a study in the United States on their Head Start program (which includes pre-school education, nutrition and other services for low income families) states that:
The benefits of access to Head Start at age four are largely absent by 1st grade for the program population as a whole.
Obviously we can't compare this directly to Ontario's program since in the United States kindergarten is not full-time.  However, early learning at the four-year old level does not appear (in this study) to influence academic trajectory.

Ironically, parents who try to assist the schools by trying to provide staff of their own are re-buffed and educational assistants will grieve any attempt to put in staff because that person is taking the job away from a unionized EA.  A parent cannot put their own staff in place to help their child, but they also cannot rely on the school to do so either, especially with so few EAs available (now just 64 education assistants for a city of almost three million people).

So for parents of typical children who are four and five:
  • They pay taxes
  • Both parents can work with free child-care, a.k.a. full day learning
  • Extra income = more opportunities
  • And if you're in Toronto... special academy schools for kids in music and leadership
For parent of children with special needs:
  • They pay taxes
  • Their children must attend fewer hours or not at all
  • One parent must remain home to home-school or be around when the school ejects the student, or must work full-time to pay for private education
  • Parents cannot pay for an EA themselves even if they have the means due to union grievances
  • The dollars spent per child for regular children are not refunded to them - they pay the same tax for less service
In short, if you are a regular kid, the system works.  If you're not, you're screwed.

Fairness is not when everyone gets the same thing.  It's when everyone gets what they need to be successful.  This isn't fairness.  It's time for special education funding to follow the children they are to fund.

I feel sorry for the parents of kids in Toronto.