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Ontario Financial Accountability Officer Peter Weltman answers questions in Toronto on Dec. 10, 2018.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

One of Ontario’s fiscal watchdogs says provincial funding allocated for education over the next several years falls billions of dollars short of what it projects will be needed to pay for promised programming.

The Financial Accountability Office issued a report Monday comparing the Ministry of Education’s programs and commitments for the period spanning 2019-20 to 2029-30 to the spending plan laid out for the sector in the 2021 Ontario budget.

The watchdog says that based on its analysis, ministry spending should grow at an average annual rate of two per cent, but the budget only calls for an average increase of 1.2 per cent.

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It says that would lead to annual spending gaps that would reach $2.9-billion by 2029-30, or a cumulative shortfall of $12.3-billion.

As a result, the FAO says the province will either need to increase funding for education or bring in significant spending cuts.

A spokeswoman for Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the government “will continue to spend record amounts in public education to ensure the safety and success of Ontario students.”

Opposition legislators said the report confirms the Progressive Conservative government is gearing up for years of cuts to education funding.

New Democrat Marit Stiles, the party’s education critic, said the government is looking for savings at the expense of students.

“(Premier Doug) Ford came into office targeting public education with deep cuts … These Ford Conservatives just don’t believe in spending the money on public education,” she said in a statement.

The Liberals raised similar concerns.

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“By only spending half of the new funds needed to maintain the current quality of education, Doug Ford is shortchanging our children’s future,” Leader Steven Del Duca said in a statement.

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