Unions unfairly paint Ford as bogeyman in education funding fiasco

jasmine pickel

Jasmine Pickel is the interim Ontario Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Well-funded union advertising campaigns have convinced many Ontarians that Premier Doug Ford is making cuts to education that are hurting our kids.

Is this true? No.

These claims are demonstrably false. The current government has increased education funding by $700 million beyond what the previous Liberal government spent, including a $1.6 billion Teacher Job Protection Fund to ensure that no teachers would lose their jobs due to a change in class sizes over the next four years.

Let’s dispel another myth the unions have been peddling.

Is Ford firing 10,000 teachers?

Again, no. The Financial Accountability Office of Ontario (FAO) recently released expenditure estimates for the ministry of education for this fiscal year which confirm that the Teacher Job Protection Fund will more than do its job and ensure no teacher gets a pink slip as a result of changing class sizes.

Read properly, the estimates show that 10,000 more teachers would have been required over four years if class sizes remained the same, instead of increasing as planned by an average of 0.66 students at the elementary level, and 6 at the secondary level. It’s both inaccurate and deceitful to conflate attrition (the teachers who will retire or otherwise voluntarily leave their jobs during that time) with layoffs. You can’t fire someone you haven’t hired yet.

Although a $700 million increase in funding should be enough to make any public sector union happy, education unions in Ontario are perpetually and indiscriminately dissatisfied.

These same unions accused former Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty of launching “the most concentrated attack on collective agreements and public sector workers” in recent history. That’s a remarkable statement considering that the tenures of the New Democratic and Progressive Conservative governments which preceded the Liberals were likewise marred by teacher strikes and demonstrations.

In a time of seemingly ubiquitous union ads, it’s important for Ontarians to be accurately informed. For example, taxpayers should be wondering why class sizes are getting bigger, despite increased education spending.

Where are our education dollars going?

A 2019 Fraser Institute report revealed that over 91 per cent of the increase to education funding in Ontario in the decade preceding 2016 went to the salaries of teachers and other staff.

The FAO estimates show that five per cent of education spending goes into the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan. The average teacher starts collecting a pension of $47,300 per year and retires at the age of 59. According to this year’s budget plan, Ontario taxpayers will contribute over $1.7 billion to the teachers’ pension fund, which is $360 million more than we’ll give in post-secondary student financial assistance.

The pension fund is now worth more than $200 billion, and taxpayers have contributed 12 per cent of that, which is more than its members have. That’s concerning in light of a recent poll from BDO Canada which found that one third of Canadians have no retirement savings, and half live pay cheque to pay cheque.

The vast majority (86 per cent) of total education funding is administered through the province’s 72 school boards, yet only three school boards took up Ford’s offer to fund line-by-line audits to help them find savings. More baffling still, the Toronto District School Board opted out of provincial competitiveness legislation earlier this year that would open its construction contracts to non-union businesses to save money through more competitive bidding.

Looking beyond union rhetoric, it becomes evident that most of the increases to education funding have either gone into the pockets of teachers and staff, or have been carelessly squandered by school boards unwilling to save money.

Ford’s not the bogeyman of the education funding fiasco in this province, but hopefully he’ll stand up for taxpayers and stop being bullied by the true culprits in negotiations this fall.

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