It is no surprise that last week’s motion calling for a moratorium on school closures by the Progressive Conservatives at Queen’s Park failed. The motion was a good idea, and continues to draw attention to the issues with the government’s pupil accommodation review process. This further highlights the disconnect between the government and rural Ontario.
When pressed in the legislature, Education Minister Mitzie Hunter could not answer how many schools are being considered for closure. Later in the day Hunter stated 300 schools are currently under review. Advocacy groups such as the Ontario Alliance Against School Closures state that number is double.
At the same time as the PC’s motion, the government was clarifying a letter sent to school board and municipality associations March 6th about a three member engagement panel focusing on rural and remote schools in Ontario. The three parliamentary assistants on said panel will “engage” the public and gather information to “further strengthen the future of rural education”.
This is putting the cart before the horse and shows that government has no clear plan for education. In effect the government is grasping at straws. Engagement should come first. It should have come long before cutting the top-up funding which prompted this massive review of schools.
A haphazard approach to education policy has taken the province down the road to where we are now. Rural schools at 60, 79 and 97 per cent utilization considered for closure, increased bus times, and communities fighting each other to save their schools. Meanwhile in Toronto, schools with less than 40 per cent utilization remain open. It is easy to blame others for these failures. Thirteen-and-a-half years ago the Liberals took office under then-leader Dalton McGuinty. Now this government blames the root causes of the education woes on the 20-year old policies of Mike Harris. Which party has been in power longer and had more time to fix these issues?
Playing the blame game doesn’t fix our education issues. A moratorium, review, consultation and proper rules (not guidelines) to look at schools in communities does. The government has decided to take the easy way out – again.