September 24, 2022

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Liberals would bring in a cap of 20 students per class: Del Duca

A Liberal promise to put a firm cap of 20 students per class in public elementary and high schools is raising concerns about split-grade classes and finding enough teachers.

Party leader Steven Del Duca unveiled the pledge Thursday, saying it would cost $1 billion, require the hiring of 10,000 more teachers and take five years to implement if he’s elected premier June 2.

“We will start off by prioritizing the schools where class sizes are the highest, where they have skyrocketed under Doug Ford, especially in the neighbourhoods that have been hardest hit by the pandemic,” he told reporters in his former riding of Woodbridge-Vaughan.

The plan is aimed at giving kids more one-on-one instruction after months and months of at-home learning during the pandemic, when many students struggled and fell behind.

But the lobby group People for Education cautioned there is no longer the glut of teachers seen several years ago, when new graduates had trouble finding jobs, and that so-called “hard caps” on class sizes are problematic.

“There have been huge issues with getting enough staff for schools,” said executive director Annie Kidder, who will release a paper next week on what the group wants to see in the education platforms of the political parties.

“It was already an issue before the pandemic, it became much, much worse during the pandemic and it was much worse this year.”

Any push for a hard cap on classes could create situations where additional classes have to be set up even if there would only be a few kids over the limit of 20, which could force schools to have classes with two grades in them, she added.

“If I have one kid over that do I need to create another class?”

Del Duca said smaller classes would not be possible until hiring can increase, with an estimated 6,500 more elementary and 3,500 high school teachers required.

“We might need to add some space in order to deliver,” he added, referring to an earlier promise to build 200 new schools with money saved by scrapping Ford’s planned Highway 413 through the Greenbelt.

“For sure it’s going to take some time.”

Ford scoffed at the proposed cap of 20 students per class.

“Let’s remind everyone under the Liberals they closed 600 schools, so they won’t have to worry about capping anything because they won’t have the schools to put the students in,” the Progressive Conservative leader said at a campaign stop at a Pickering car dealership.

Del Duca said there will be “no school closures” if he replaces Ford as premier and noted the Liberals would scrap the two online classes required for graduation and the Tory government’s Bill 124, which has angered teachers and other public sector workers like nurses for capping pay raises at one per cent.

He claimed there are 80,000 certified teachers in Ontario who are not now teaching and could be lured back under the right conditions, in addition to recruiting teachers from other provinces and abroad. Kidder said she was not aware of the 80,000 number.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario said it welcomes the Liberal proposal as a way of addressing “learning gaps” that widened during the pandemic and called for a commitment to shrink kindergarten class sizes as well.

“There are still many kindergarten classes with over 30 students and an even greater number of kindergarten/Grade 1 split-grade classes,” the union added in a statement.

In the event of a minority government, Del Duca said he’d be willing to work with like-minded parties to improve public education, seniors’ care and fight climate change.

“For me, it’s not about the politics, it’s about the progress,” the father of two school-age girls said at the park outside St. Stephen’s Catholic Elementary School with his wife, Utilia Amaral, before campaigning in Toronto and Mississauga.

Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats have pledged to hire 20,000 teachers and education workers, cap class sizes at 26 in full-day Kindergarten, and 24 students from Grades 4 to 8.

Del Duca is hoping to win back the suburban riding of Vaughan-Woodbridge after losing it to Conservative Michael Tibollo in Ford’s 2018 sweep. Tibollo has served in Ford’s cabinet.

With files from Robert Benzie and Kristin Rushowy.

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https://www.thestar.com/politics/provincial/2022/05/05/liberals-would-bring-in-cap-of-20-students-per-class-by-hiring-10k-more-teachers-liberal-leader-steven-del-duca-says.html