Ontario’s Liberal government has promised to spend more than $300-million over three years to improve support for children with special needs, a move that comes in the lead up to a June election.
But the announcement on Monday also raised concerns in some quarters that the money will do little to address individual student needs.
Premier Kathleen Wynne called the increased funding a significant and permanent investment in the province’s special education system. It will go toward hiring about 2,000 new workers in schools, including psychologists, speech and language pathologists and educational assistants, and eliminating the wait list to have children’s special education needs assessed.
One in six children in Ontario needs special support, Ms. Wynne said.
“We’re making a major expansion of special education programs and services that ultimately improve the school experience for every child … that means putting more people in the classroom,” she told reporters while speaking at a junior school in Toronto’s east end.
The announcement comes just days before the Liberals present their last budget before the election.
The province has spent $2.86-billion on special education this year, but leaves it up to school boards to allocate funding to schools or programs based on local needs. Some argue that it would be more effective to allocate money to each child based on their needs.
Bruce McIntosh, president of the Ontario Autism Coalition, a parent advocacy group, said he is concerned that the new money will be sent to boards “based on a statistical model” and would do little to meet individual student needs.
“I see nothing in this announcement to ensure that children with autism are going to get the best-researched, most-effective teaching … in the classroom. I see a bunch of money being given to school boards,” he said.
But Annie Kidder, executive director of People for Education, said the extra resources will be helpful to school boards. In a survey done in 2014, her group found that half of the province’s school principals had asked parents to keep their child at home because they could not accommodate their special education needs.
“What’s complex about special education is that money, just money, is not going to be the answer,” Ms. Kidder said. “I hope that by having more staff at the school board level to help co-ordinate this, more staff to help ensure kids are getting off waiting lists, that it will take a little bit of stress off schools and the system in terms of adequate supports for kids.”
Many school boards have said that special education needs have outpaced the funding they receive from the province and that they have had to use funds from other grants to fill the gap.
Laurie French, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, said school districts have been requesting more support and resources, and the increased funding will help address the need.