Liberals promise ESL policy, but no extra funds
TORONTO - The province's schools will have to improve the way they help and track the progress of students who aren't fluent in English, but there won't be any new cash accompanying the policy when it's delivered to boards this fall.
The new English as a Second Language policy will be given to boards in September and will eventually be followed by stricter rules that track how boards spend money earmarked for ESL programs, Education Minister Kathleen Wynne said Thursday.
Schools will have to provide an orientation for new arrivals and their families, improve the assessment of their language skills and increase the reporting of their progress to parents, Wynne said.
But despite studies that show elementary schools are short of ESL teachers and boards are diverting ESL funds into building maintenance, Wynne said the new expectations this fall won't come with a cheque.
"We've been increasing ESL funding into the system but we're not announcing new dollars right now,'' she said. "What we're trying to do now is get a handle on how kids are progressing.''
But Wynne said she is aware that money for ESL programs is being used by some boards to pay for other things. The province is working on setting guidelines for boards, but they won't be in place until the 2008 school year, she said.
Annie Kidder, founder of the group People for Education, said the new policy and stricter rules mean little without more funding. A recent study by the group found more than half the province's elementary schools have ESL students but no specialized teachers.
Schools are underfunded and need more money for necessities like maintenance so they aren't borrowing from ESL funding to begin with, Kidder said.
"There either needs to be more funding to operate schools or there needs to be more money in ESL,'' she said. "To just have a policy without either teeth or more funding, I'm not sure whether this will make the real difference that we need to see.''
Parents immigrate to Canada, leaving professional careers behind to drive taxis in Ontario, because they want to build a better life for their children, Kidder said.
"We should be making sure that we're providing the programs their kids need in schools,'' she said. "In many cases, we're not. We're really doing a disservice to the hopes and dreams of these parents.''
Rick Johnson, president of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association, said he hoped shining the provincial spotlight on ESL might force the government to put more money into the programs.
If boards aren't able to meet the provincial requirements with their existing budgets, Johnson said the province may have no choice but to increase funding.
"The bottom line is it takes quite a bit of money to (help) somebody be competent in English,'' Johnson said, adding the federal government should also be coming to the table with support.
"They set the immigration rates and a third of the people who arrive in Canada are children. The federal government has a huge obligation to provide assistance.''