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Ontario ombudsman to investigate Doug Ford's direct education payments to parents

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The province’s ombudsman will be launching an investigation into Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government decision to give parents money directly to help support their child’s education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a news release issued Monday, the office cited complaints from parents who were denied payments because “someone else had claimed the money first.”

According to the ombudsman, some parents learned that a relative who was not caring for a child had claimed the money, and there was no recourse to get it back.

“We heard disturbing accounts from parents who were not only denied funding for the children in their care – they were not told who received the payments,” Ombudsman Paul Dube said in a statement. “People have complained to us about this issue through successive iterations of these programs, and the latest version is likely not the last.”

“Our investigation will look for the root of the problem and recommend ways to make these programs fair and transparent going forward.”

Ontario parents have received four versions of direct payments since 2020, when the pandemic forced schools to shutter to in-person learning. At the time, it was meant to help support at-home education.

Since then, the government has offered parents variations of this funding to help support both at-home learning and tutoring to help them “catch up.” The most recent of this funding was expected to cost about $225 million over two years.

Parents were told to apply for the funding online by providing the name of a child’s school, their date of birth, and their preferred payment method.

On the government’s website it specifies that only one parent or guardian may apply per student.

“It is up to the child’s parents or guardians to determine who will apply,” the website said. “We are not involved in these decisions and will not accept duplicate applications.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Minister of Education said that about 2.2 million students benefitted from the payments.

"In a time of unprecedented need, our government provided direct financial relief to parents to support their children as they catch up on the basics of reading, writing and math,” Isha Chaudhuri said.

“We heard from experts on the critical need to intervene and ensure tutoring supports are available for students.”

The ministry said it will work with the ombudsman’s office as they conduct their investigation.

The office says they have received about 200 complaints about the programs since January 2020.

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