Public opposes Ontario government's changes to education, poll suggests
QUEEN'S PARK -- Premier Doug Ford’s government may lack public support when it comes to wide-ranging changes to the education system, according to a new poll which tracked voter sentiment on everything from education spending to class sizes.
People from every part of the province told polling firm Nanos Research that the provincial government should prioritise education spending over tackling the deficit and a majority said they oppose increasing class sizes as a money saving measure.
The poll was commissioned by the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA) which is currently in the middle of tense bargaining with the province’s public elementary and high school teachers’ unions, alongside the government.
Its public release comes on the eve of work-to-rule campaigns affecting hundreds of elementary and high schools province wide.
Polling data suggests 61 per cent of Ontarians believe spending on public education is a more “important priority” than eliminating the province’s $9-billion deficit or erasing the $357-billion debt.
The Ford government committed to spending $700 million on education during the April 2019 budget, which critics say doesn’t keep up with the rate of inflation.
During the Fall Economic Statement, tabled Nov. 6, the government invested an additional $186 million into the education sector – largely due to policy reversals and additional students enrolled in schools.
When asked how the province’s education system should be funded a majority of people, 65 per cent, said it should be based on the number of students enrolled and inflation.
Fewer than 25 per cent believe education funding should be a percentage of overall provincial spending, and school boards should work within a given budget.
“Education is the second largest funding line in the provincial budget and it is our hope that these results can help inform decisions to ensure public education is supported by stable and predictable funding,” OPBSA president Cathy Abraham said in a statement.
Support for larger class sizes in Ontario elementary and secondary schools seems to be mixed with 41 per cent of respondents saying they are opposed to increasing the student-teacher ratio in order to save money.
Roughly one in four people say they are somewhat opposed to increasing the capacity in classrooms while 11 per cent say they are in favour of a higher provincial average in classroom sizes.
The government recently backed away from increasing high school class size ratios to 28 students per teacher in a bid to strike a new deal with unions.
The government is proposing to raise class sizes in secondary schools to a provincial average of 25:1 over four years, up from the current provincially funded average of 22.5:1.
The online survey polled 1,005 Ontario residents between Nov. 8 and Nov. 12. Nanos says the sample size has been “geographically stratified” to be representative of the province as a whole.
A margin of error does not apply to the research, Nanos said.