Policy Monday: Edumacation
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Policy Monday: Edumacation

Policy Monday is a weekly feature during the lead-up to the provincial election where Torontoist will dive into the mean and gritty world of public policy, turning a critical eye at a specific area of the policies and machinations of the four major provincial parties.
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Photo by Metric X from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.
One of the biggest election brouhahas over the past few months has been the issue of faith-based schools. Ever since John Tory announced his party’s intention to fund faith-based schools in July, the issue simply hasn’t gone away.
Education is always an issue in provincial elections, and with Tory’s opening of Pandora’s Box of faith-based schooling, it’s bound to be incredibly controversial this time around. Apart from all of this, every party’s policies on education tend to be makers or breakers for a significant chunk of the voting population. Teacher’s federations are powerful coalitions with excellent PR—it was significant news when the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario declared their hate-on for all things Tory a few weeks ago. Similarly, students and student groups scrutinize every party’s stand toward things like scholarships and tuition fees.
So where does each party stand?

Liberals

2007_09_10lowertuition.jpgThe Liberals have spent a lot of effort telling voters how much their policies have benefited the education system in this province over the past few years. They released a progress report which concluded that they are “on track” to have smaller class sizes this fall. McGuinty’s people want you to know all about how elementary school student standardized test scores are up.
The Liberals also recently announced their intention to extend all public kindergarten classes in Ontario from half-day to full-day programs by 2010. While this seems like an excellent way to help relieve the stress of parents looking to fill the other half of their children’s day, this plan is effectively doubling the size of kindergarten classes in every school. Understandably, some educators are concerned. Elementary schools would either have to deal with incredibly large classrooms of very young and difficult to control children, or a second classroom would be needed. This may even result in mass-creation of the government’s favourite cheap way to house students—portables.
McGuinty has made it very clear that he is completely opposed to Tory`s plan for funding faith-based schools, citing it as a “defining issue” of the upcoming election. The Liberals believe that extending funding to faith-based schools would drain funds from the existing public system and lead to a culture of segregation and mistrust. It’s curious that the Liberals haven’t specifically mentioned if they believe that students in the Roman Catholic school system are segregated from other students.
In terms of post-secondary education, the Liberals are pledging to give college and university students $300 a year to help cover the cost of textbooks. That’s pretty awesome, though no word on lowering tuition fees will likely upset vocal student groups.
The Liberals have also quietly pledged to increase new apprenticeships by 25%. With an increasing stigma in the job market against any sort of non-university post-secondary education, giving students more choices will help relieve our already-crowded university system.

Tory’s Tories

The Tories’ education policy has been bogged down by their push for “inclusive public education.” A slight concern of Tory’s whole “inclusive education” plan is that he wants to appoint former PC premier Bill Davis to look into the matter. Patronage, anyone?
While interest groups love the the PC’s position, their education policy leaves a lot to be desired for the non-religious. Much of their platform is McGuinty-bashing rather than plans for the future.
Aside from the typical vague promises of increased education funding, there are a few spiffy ideas. John Tory is actually listening to the anguished cries of so very many kids and teenagers—he actually wants to put a limit of ten minutes per grade on homework. While this is every apathetic student’s dream, it’s unclear how this would actually be enforced.
Tory also has extended a hand to the much-coveted ethnic immigrant vote by pledging to increase the availability of ESL programs. While nice on paper, what the policy neglects to mention is that areas with the greatest amount of non-English-speaking immigrants—cities—already have an abundance of ESL.

Hampton and the En Dee Pea

2007_09_10schoolbuses.jpgThe NDP want to lower tuition fees. They really, really want to. They honestly want to help the plight of the working family and allow their children to access quality post-secondary education. Realistically, Howard Hampton knows that he can’t immediately lower tuition fees, but he wants to freeze tuition fees and then figure out a way to lower them.
The NDP’s fiscal plan hasn’t been released yet, so it’s hard to tell how they’ll fund the public school system. They have said that they will pump another $100 million into the education system and give school boards additional cash per student to make sure that each student has the tools that they need. Realistically, the NDP needs some pretty impressive education plans if they want to get the vote of educators. Most teachers and administrators have a long memory and are a bit wary of any talk of the Ontario NDP increasing spending.

Greens

The Green Party of Ontario actually has a pretty sensible solution to the whole issue of faith-based schools—a referendum. While the party supports secular systems for both English- and French-based public schools, they think that citizens should get to choose their education systems. While this may seem like an unnecessary cost for an issue that only flares up around election time, it’s something that would solve a problem that’s plagued this province for over a century.
Education is an area where the Green Party stands apart—they want educators to have serious input into an overhaul of the system. While this would work in a perfect world, educators are stressed with too much work as it stands—consulting them would take their time from the classroom.
When they start to talk about tuition fees, the Green Party starts to sound a little more loopy. They want to immediately cap university tuition fees at $3000 and college tuition fees at $700. If that were to happen, universities would either close or lose all respectability. They simply wouldn’t have the money they needed to be quality institutions of learning.
Regardless of their wacky stand on tuition, they do have a few more good policy ideas that will hopefully be taken up by other parties. They want to increase environmental education, which is vital to raising a generation that will fight climate change, and they want to increase physical education, because our kids are fat.
They also want to end standardized testing—which is pretty freaking awesome. Standardized testing has been criticized by teachers for taking individualism out of education, so this would be a good step. It’s worth looking at—but by another party.
Middle photo by Spirited_Away and bottom photo by SirCharlie. Both from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

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