If all goes according to plan, Ontario students will return to the classroom in September. The Progressive Conservative government plans to spend an extra $309 million to ensure safety from the coronavirus. This substantial sum is not enough for the teachers’ unions, of course, who insist the number should instead be $3 billion. The Liberal party, not to be outdone, has called for new spending of $3.2 billion.
Whether the right amount is $30 million, or $300 million, or $3 billion is hard to say. What is certain is that over the past almost two decades, the province’s education budget has gotten out of hand. Whatever spending increase the pandemic requires could easily be financed by reductions elsewhere in the education budget.
Ontario taxpayers are quite tolerant of expenditure abuse — they must be or they would not have elected the Liberal governments of Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne to four consecutive terms. But at some point tolerance has to run out, and with government failures in education having become intolerable, now is a good time. After accounting for consumer price inflation and changes in the number of students, Ontario school board expenditures rose 47 per cent from 2002-03 to 2016-17 (the latest year for which Statistics Canada data are available). Meanwhile, over those years there was no improvement in the quality of education.