A Progressive Conservative government would stop the roll-out of all-day kindergarten in Ontario, increase class sizes and cut 10,000 support staff jobs, halting key parts of outgoing Premier Dalton McGuinty’s education legacy.
These policies were part of a paper released by Tory leader Tim Hudak Thursday, likely to form the basis of the party’s platform in an election that could come this year.
Mr. McGuinty’s government has been phasing in full-day kindergarten since the fall of 2010, with the goal of having the program available in all the province’s schools by 2014. The program has meant hiring more staff and renovating schools. When all is said and done, economist Don Drummond estimated in a report last year, it will cost the government $1.5– billion a year to run.
Under Mr. Hudak’s plan, the program’s expansion would halt until the government has eliminated its budget deficit.
“The reality today is, it’s not ‘Is a program a good program or a bad program?’ It’s ‘What can you afford?’” he said at Queen’s Park. “And when you’re staring at that type of [deficit], you have to make some difficult decisions.”
Cutting class sizes has been another hallmark of Liberal policy which Mr. Hudak would partly reverse. The Tories said they would increase sizes in line with Mr. Drummond’s report, which recommended upping sizes from 22 to 24 for secondary school students, going from 24.5 to 26 for middle-school and do away with a policy that capped most primary school classes at 20 students.
The Tories also want to cut 10,000 support staff, ranging from education assistants to school psychologists to caretakers.
But Mr. Hudak said the party would not advocate merging the public and Catholic school systems into one, a major cost-saving measure, because such a move would make for a more powerful teachers’ union. The government was able to reach negotiated settlements with Catholic teachers, but educators in the public system have been refusing to perform extra-curricular activities after Queen’s Park imposed contracts on them.
“I worry that if we had one giant union and one giant board, there would be none of these programs in any of our schools,” Mr. Hudak said.
The Tory policy also includes an education shift towards job training in the education system, including more emphasis on science currciulum and skilled trades training.
It would also pay performance bonuses to teachers for performing extracurricular activities.