Speaking on Bill 98: The Better Schools and Student Outcomes Act, 2023
It was an honour to rise in the House today and speak to Bill 98, The Better Schools and Student Outcomes Act, 2023.
Learn more about the Better Schools and Student Outcomes Act – click here
Speaker, I believe the education of our children might be the most important issue facing us today, so I’m thankful for this opportunity to stand before you and provide my full support to The Better Schools and Student Outcomes Act.
It’s an honour for me to represent the people of Thornhill, and to stand up for hard-working Thornhill families.
Whenever I speak with parents in Thornhill, Speaker, they tell me they’re concerned about the quality of the education their kids are receiving, and they wonder if it will do an adequate job of preparing them for the years ahead.
Sadly, Speaker, this particular concern among parents has been around for a very long time. I hope that my Liberal and NDP friends take some time to look at a report that was issued by the Royal Commission on Learning, chaired by Monique Begin and Gerald Caplan back in 1995.
To quote from the report, Speaker:
“Many parents came to us with shocking evidence of kids who finished high school yet wrote with all the sophistication of a nine-year old, or report cards that seemed deliberately contrived to sound like gibberish, or schools that made them feel unwelcome, intimidated, indifferent to them and not much more engaged with their children.”
Speaker, nearly all of the parents I encounter tell me they believe in the idea of public education, but their school or their school board needs to be far more accountable to families and taxpayers. I agree with them, Speaker.
Before I discuss the many merits of this bill, Speaker, I also wish to thank the Minister of Education for taking a strong stance against antisemitism in schools, and making learning about the Holocaust mandatory in the Grade Six curriculum.
Back in February, Speaker, secondary school teachers within the Toronto District School Board were subjected to a Professional Day presentation by the OSSTF teacher union regarding a false narrative of “Anti-Palestinian Racism.”
Many teachers who attended described the presentation as hateful, antisemitic and anti-Israel.
Antisemitism in schools is a real concern for families in Toronto, so I applaud the Minister for taking a strong stand against antisemitic hate.
Combatting antisemitism in schools is just one bold action the Minister has taken over the past four years to improve education in our province, Speaker.
Our government was the first to mandate anti-sex trafficking protocols, and we implemented a lifetime ban for any educator found guilty of a serious Criminal Code office like sexual abuse or violence.
In fact, Speaker, we went even further by publicly posting the names of any educators involved in serious criminal proceedings, with the aims of enhancing transparency for parents and protecting kids.
In our government’s first term, the Minister of Education revoked Regulation 274, which was a regressive hiring rule that was brought in by the Liberals to appease the teacher unions.
Now, instead of simply rewarding years of seniority, teacher hiring by school boards will be dictated by merit, where qualifications and experience guide hiring.
Regulation 274 was not the only Liberal mess our government cleaned up in the Education file, Speaker.
You may remember the previous government disadvantaged countless numbers of students by closing over 600 schools across Ontario.
Well, Speaker, after a decade of school closures, Ontario is once again building schools to prepare young people for the jobs of tomorrow.
We are investing $15 billion over ten years to support school construction, improve existing structures, and create new child care spaces.
And perhaps most importantly, the Ministry of Education has been busy updating the curriculum to ensure it does a better job of getting students ready for the workforce.
In simple terms that has meant focusing on more science and math, including digital and financial literacy, and encouraging more students to take a good look at the skilled trades for lucrative and rewarding careers.
Speaker, the 1994 report I just mentioned said there is, and I am quoting:
“a shared concern out there. It’s that Ontario’s schools aren’t equipped to deal with the future – a problem significantly exacerbated by our utter ignorance of what that future might bring.”
Well, Speaker, we know there’s a growing demand for jobs in the skilled trades, and that the tech sector needs people with STEM learning skills, so I believe our government is on the right track.
Speakers, these are real and meaningful accomplishments that have improved Ontario’s system of education to the benefit of students and parents.
Clearly, the Minister of Education is driving transformational change, and the bill we are debating is a necessary next step towards improving education in Ontario.
Speaker, our legislation will increase accountability by giving parents new tools to navigate and understand the education system, while establishing basic qualifications for Directors of Education.
Additionally, Speaker, the Minister will now be able to establish key priorities to ensure students have the skills and knowledge they need, especially in areas such as reading, writing and math.
Should it pass this House, Speaker, The Better Schools and Student Outcomes Act would enact over 20 necessary reforms, but I’d like to focus my remarks on a few measures that will increase accountability and transparency in the education system.
Speaker, I believe most school boards are doing a relatively good job of educating our children. Ontario enjoys a five-year graduation rate of 89 per cent, which is a key contributor to the province’s economic growth.
Unfortunately, Speaker, thousands of students annually are not graduating high school within five years, and eight out of Ontario’s 72 school boards have consistently shown the lowest performance in the five year graduation rate in the past nine years.
To add to the problem, Speaker, the Ministry of Education has a limited ability to drive or enforce provincial priorities through to schools and school boards, and information about school board performance, education spending, and how that money supports education outcomes is not easily accessible to parents, taxpayers, or the public at large.
Just to put this in the proper context, Speaker, Ontario’s school boards receive over $27 billion in provincial funding, and operate over 4,600 school facilities and a complex system of transportation.
Some boards say they can’t make do with the money we give them, even though our government is making record investments in education, and funding has increased every year we have been in government.
Understandably, Speaker, many hard-working families in Thornhill and across the province are a bit confused about where all of that money is going.
Families have questions about their local school board’s ability to manage money, Speaker, and they deserve answers.
To address these issues, Speaker, our government’s legislation, should it pass this House, will:
- Set provincial priorities on student achievement, require performance reporting and strengthen Ministry powers to address variable board performance;
- Require school board transparency in funding and outcomes;
- Direct and/or prohibit school board participation in prescribed business activities;
- Empower the Minister to send in support personnel to boards failing to align with provincial priorities and create corresponding obligations for school boards to cooperate;
- Enhance financial accountability of school board-controlled entities to the public;
- Amend the Education Act to support the creation of an accelerated apprenticeship pathway, starting in Grade 11.
Speaker, these are prudent, common-sense reforms that will make school boards more accountable and transparent to families and taxpayers.
Our government is committed to taking a more prominent role in the performance of our education system, and that starts by passing The Better Schools and Student Outcomes Act.
Families and taxpayers demand and deserve greater accountability and transparency from their school boards, Speaker. I hope that all of us in this House can at least agree upon that.
Speaker, I’m proud of our government’s actions to update the curriculum and ensure our schools are safe and welcoming.
And I’m proud of this Minister for delivering a thoughtful reform bill that will help make sure all parts of Ontario’s education system are unified in putting students first. We’re getting the job done, Speaker.