Marit Stiles is the MPP for Davenport, elected by NDP, and she is a parent and former Toronto District School Board Trustee.
Marit served as a board member at the Toronto Foundation for Student Success and she is a passionate advocate for public education.
On this edition, we have the vision of the Official Opposition Education Critic about teacher’s strike.
“Along with the class size increase comes a major cut to funding and the loss of between 6,000 and 10,000 teaching positions at the end of four years”
Milénio Stadium: As a mother of two daughter’s how do you explain to them what’s happening right know between teachers and Ontario Provincial Government?
Marit Stiles: I have a daughter in university and one in Grade 10, and absolutely there is some anxiety about what will happen. But there’s more anxiety about the devastating impact of Doug Ford’s education cuts. My daughter’s classmates have already lost courses because of these cuts. The NDP’s position is that the provincial government should be investing in education, not making cuts.
MS: Former education minister Lisa Thompson announced last March that class-size averages would increase in high school to 28 students from 22 over four years. How will this affect the quality of education in Ontario?
M. Stiles: I don’t know a single parent who wants their kids to receive fewer supports in the classroom, yet that’s exactly what Doug Ford’s cuts and class size increases will mean. Those class sizes are an average size, meaning that classes can grow to 40 students or more. That means less one-on-one support from teachers, more distractions and more disruptions for our kids. We’ve heard of some classes where that many desks won’t even fit in the room.
Along with the class size increase comes a major cut to funding and the loss of between 6,000 and 10,000 teaching positions at the end of four years. Ford’s cuts will take thousands of caring adults out of our schools, which will also result in the loss of thousands of course options. Already kids have had their timetables turned upside down and have lost courses they need to graduate.
The government is trying to balance the budget on the backs of our kids – and that’s not right.
MS: E-learning has become a major talking point in the fight between the provincial government and education workers. Why are the teachers so worried about it?
M. Stiles: While the government plans to remove thousands of teachers and education workers from our schools, they also announced a plan to force kids into risky, mandatory online-only courses. What little research there is on e-learning shows clearly is that it does not work for all kids. When pushed, the Minister of Education could only point to a handful of states, like Alabama, where e-learning is mandatory. We believe kids learn best with teachers in classrooms, not by being left to struggle on their own. Don’t kids get enough screen time as it is?
“Since his election, Doug Ford has targeted teachers and education workers – calling teachers thugs”
MS: How many teachers and students do we have in the province?
M. Stiles: In 2017-18, there were over two million students and 76,000 high school teachers and 115,000 full time equivalent teachers.
MS: The median family income in Ontario is $75,000 but teachers in the province earn an average salary of around $86,000, according to data provided by Ontario’s Ministry of Education.
M. Stiles: Since his election, Doug Ford has targeted teachers and education workers – calling teachers “thugs.” His government followed with a wage-restraint bill that is likely unconstitutional. When the Liberal government did that, the courts imposed a massive $100 million penalty. Instead, Doug Ford could end these strikes today by canceling his cuts and getting back to the bargaining table to reach a fair settlement with the people who deliver our kids’ education.
“Students are paying the price with fewer supports, fewer course options and larger class sizes”
MS: In Hamilton, the public-school board operates on an annual budget of $504 million. Of that amount, $373 million, or 73 per cent, goes to teachers’ salaries. If benefits are included, that number jumps to 87 per cent. Just four per cent, by comparison, goes to supplies and textbooks.
M. Stiles: We are already seeing the impact of Ford’s cuts in classrooms and this is only year one of four years of planned cuts. School boards have had to scramble to make up for lost funds and balance their budgets as required by law. Students are paying the price with fewer supports, fewer course options and larger class sizes. The education of our next generation is one of the most important things the provincial government is responsible for – no parents I’ve talked to want to see their kids have fewer opportunities. No one voted for that.
“Parents in my community would welcome a real plan to tackle the childcare shortage – people in Toronto pay some of the highest childcare fees in the country”
MS: In the wake of the strikes, the Ontario government has announced a subsidy for parents of children affected by the strike. The amount starts in $25 and it goes until $60 per day.
M. Stiles: Our kids should be in class. Instead of creating complicated payment schemes that would barely cover the costs of childcare, Doug Ford should reverse his education cuts immediately and negotiate a deal at the bargaining table. Parents in my community would welcome a real plan to tackle the childcare shortage – people in Toronto pay some of the highest childcare fees in the country.
MS: Ontario Education Minister says that “teacher strikes hurt kids”. What is NDP opinion?
M. Stiles:Teachers and education workers have not held province-wide strikes of this scale in over 20 years. It shows you the extent of the cuts the Conservative government is making to our public education system – cuts that will have long-term consequences for our kids and their future. We all want to see kids back in the classroom where they belong. But parents, teachers and the vast majority of Ontarians agree that accepting deep cuts to our children’s education is so much worse.