Results of a province-wide opinion poll indicate that a majority of the Ontario public sees little evidence of positive results from the Ontario Liberals program of reinvesting in public education.
The survey question, commissioned by the Toronto Parent Network and conducted by Strategic Communications in October, asked 606 randomly selected Ontarians the following question:
“Some people say that the Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty has made real education spending commitments that are making a difference in the classroom. Other people say the Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty has made spending promises for our schools but there has been no real change for students in the classroom. Which is closer to your view?”
(To counter the possible effects of ‘question order’, the two competing claims in the question above were rotated in the survey, so half the sample heard the positive statement first, and half heard the negative statement first.)
The results were stark: more than half the respondents in this survey (55%) chose the negative statement – that there has been no real change in the classroom despite the Liberal government’s promises – as closer to their own view. Only 23% said that the positive statement – that the Liberal government’s spending had made a difference in the classroom
– was closer to their own view. A further 22% did not choose either the negative or the
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positive statement. These results are accurate to within 4.0%, 19-times-out-of-20.
Impressions of government effectiveness in education were more negative among parents, with 61% agreeing that there had been no real change in the classroom as a result of Liberal spending promises, while just 25% agreed that spending commitments are making a difference to students in the classroom. Among Liberal supporters, 33% endorsed the view that the classroom situation is the same as it was when their party took office two years ago.
The findings from the October survey are very similar to the results from a spring 2005 survey, when the same question was asked. At that time, Stratcom found that 54% of Ontarians thought that the Liberal’s education spending was making no real difference in the classroom, while 26% thought that it was. So, in a six-month period in which the Liberal government has repeatedly said that making improvements in education is a key priority, public perception of the reality ‘on the ground’ has hardly moved at all.
The Toronto Parent Network (TPN) and other groups have maintained that the Liberal’s refusal to revise the funding formula, introduced by the Conservative Government of Mike Harris, means that school boards remain seriously under-funded. “The Liberals have introduced a series of financial initiatives to fund new programs. But underlying those programs, the education funding formula does not pay the full cost of teachers’ salaries and benefits,
and the costs of utilities” said Cathy Dandy, spokesperson for the Toronto Parent Network. “It looks like new money and I suppose it is. But it won’t fix the old problems. Mike Harris’ legacy has become Dalton McGuinty’s reality.”
Updating of base funding levels to deal with real costs, was the main recommendation put forth by Dr. Mordecai Rozanski in the Education Equality Task Force Report – a report often cited by the Liberals. While the Liberals have invested in a number of areas and the dollar figure is quite high, this money is focused on their campaign promises and not on lifting the whole
system up.(1) The Minister of Education states that Rozanski’s objectives have been met because the dollar figure adds up. However, the money provided is seriously restricted in its use or it is short-term project funding that is distributed inequitably and irregularly to school boards.
“I think it’s hard to ignore the verdict of public opinion and especially of parents,” states Dandy. “More than two-thirds of those parents who have an opinion on this issue are saying they don’t see results. This is their feeling more than two years after Dalton McGuinty, the self-proclaimed ‘education premier’, was elected. I think the Premier should think very seriously about that.”
TPN and other organizations have repeatedly argued that until the provincial government commits to full funding of teacher salaries, the bedrock of education funding, school boards will be forced into crisis management, “borrowing” from other areas such as ESL(2), caretaking and computers to make up the salary shortfall. Moreover, students who don’t fit into the projects funded by the Liberals continue to be shortchanged, left with the inadequate
standards imposed by the sweeping funding cuts of the previous Conservative government.
The survey findings suggest the Liberal education funding strategy has failed. A majority of communities, parents and students have not seen positive results in the classroom, either because they don’t meet the special criteria for funding initiatives or because their school boards are the victims of perpetual financial crises. In the Toronto District School Board, that funding
shortfall is 9%. If the Liberals were committed to the funding principles outlined by Rozanski, the TDSB could hire approximately 1,000 teachers. That would mean more teachers for English as a Second Language (ESL), guidance, family studies and tech programs, music, physical education and resource teachers to support students that struggle from time to time. Moreover,
committing to the new funding base, would make good on a key Liberal promise which is still unfulfilled – full implementation of the Rozanski recommendations.