EPO Funding Cuts (Opinion)
When the provincial government makes an unprecedented decision that significantly influences elementary and secondary school students, details regarding the fundamental reasons behind the decision must be disclosed. On December 14th, 2018, however, Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government announced to Ontario’s 72 school boards that a staggering amount of $25 million would be cut from Education Programs - Other (EPO) without stating the causes that led to the action. The programs that are immediately being cancelled due to this decision include Focus on Youth, Tutors in Classrooms, Experiential Learning for Adults, Indigenous Focused Collaborative Inquiry, Daily Physical Activity in elementary schools, Physical Activity in secondary schools, and the Speak Up programs. What is frustrating to students who have been benefiting from these programs and utilising them to their best extent is that no factual reason has been provided to support the decision that impacts many and the decision was abrupt. Among all programs, there are two specific programs for which their cancellation would subsequently lead to the violation of students’ right to be protected and the limitation of the right to be educated on historical matters.
First and foremost, the cancellation of the Focus on Youth after-school program is one that places numerous students at risk. The program originates from the idea to prevent students from encountering gangs by providing after-school activities for students within areas that are considered underserved by agencies. Given the substantially growing illegal gun problems in major cities such as Toronto, this program is especially widely supported. The increase in the number of shootings is not significant but they are becoming more lethal as a much larger percentage of shootings in 2018 resulted in death compared to previous years. Given the concerning situation, numerous students including myself are left puzzled by the government’s decision to cancel funding for a program that effectively protects students from potential danger outside classrooms. The cancellation of this program is placing many of the marginalised students at risk and is ultimately infringing upon the rights of those students to feel safe, protected, and secure within schools. The decision also leaves students questioning if the government has an alternate safe haven for the vulnerable students being affected by this decision.
In addition to recently cutting the Ontario Arts Council (OAC)’s Indigenous Culture Fund (ICF) nearly in half, the cut in EPO funds also enforces the cancellation of the Indigenous Focused Collaborative Inquiry. This meaningful program supports educators to integrate Indigenous content into classrooms, ultimately leading to the enrichment of educational experience for students and highlighting the impacts of important aspects of our history. The lack of funding and subsequent cancellation of this program prevents the implementation of concrete strategies to address these errors within classrooms and schools. There is no future for a nation that forgets its past and cutting funding for this program subtly disregards the significance of Indigenous history education and the past efforts that have been made to raise awareness on Indigenous affairs. Furthermore, the decision to cancel this program essentially limits the rights of students to learn and be educated on matters that are crucial to Canada’s history and should, therefore, be reconsidered.
Kayla Iafelice, press secretary for Education Minister Lisa Thompson, has claimed that the EPO funding “has a long track record of wasteful spending, overspending and millions of dollars of unfunded commitments” without specifying which programs she was referring to. Once again, the government does not seem to realise the magnitude of the sudden action taken in the midst of a school year. This measure taken by the government is one that restricts the most fundamental rights of students to feel safe and protected by schools and moreover limits the rights to be educated on matters necessary for the acknowledgment of Canada’s flaws in history and education enrichment as a whole.
The government should have acknowledged that as students are the most significant stakeholders of any decisions that affect the education system, students should have had their voices integrated into the process of making the decision. In order for students to acknowledge the benefits of such a change, there must be specific indications as to why the past records of EPO funding are deemed “wasteful” and how the altered numbers in funding will benefit students. If these are not to be divulged, I do not see a reason for the government not to reconsider the recent decision made.