Lecce hopes parents will spend Ontario ‘catch-up’ payments on their children

Education Minister Stephen Lecce says he’s confident Ontario parents will use provincial funds wisely to help their children catch up in school.

The Department of Education announced on Thursday that the government will provide parents with $200 or $250 per child to help offset the cost of remedial education after two years of disrupted learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parents of kindergarten children up to age 18 can apply for $200, while parents of school-aged children with special educational needs, up to age 21, can apply for $250.

Lecce said he believes parents know best how to use money to improve their children’s learning.

“I trust the parent to spend money on their family more than a politician, bureaucrat or union leader to do so. They will use those dollars wisely. They will invest in their children for textbooks, for technology, for after-school programs,” he told CP24 on Friday morning.

Parents can apply for payments online, and upon submission, Lecce said the money will be deposited directly into their accounts in about two to three weeks.

Catch-up money applications will remain open until March 31, 2023.

The payments are part of a $365 million catch-up plan, which the government first announced during the Speech from the Throne in August.

This is the fourth time the government has made payments to parents in the past two years to ease the pressures caused by the pandemic.

Last year, parents received $400 per child 0-12, while parents of special needs children under 21 received $500.

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In addition to catch-up payments, Lecce said the government is also increasing classroom support.

“We have 5,000 more employees in our schools this year, which is $600 million more this year than last year. And yes we are going to be, for the first time in Ontario for young children there…doing a literacy assessment to understand if your child has regressed in reading and giving them the right interventions and supports to put them on the right track,” he said.

Lecce has often said students are best served while in class, after students were forced to stay home and learn virtually for most of the last two years of the pandemic.

Despite criticism that catch-up payments encourage learning outside of school, Lecce said the government is supporting both parents and investing in the education system.

“I think so far a lot of parents have given me a thumbs up saying ‘look, that helps. He won’t pay the mortgage. He’s there to help gradually support their children with their learning loss, get them back on track, and I think anything the government can do and our Prime Minister can do is a positive thing.” he declared.

People for Education executive director Annie Kidder said the government could use its funding more effectively to improve learning.

“It’s really concerning that one of the answers is this kind of ‘we’ll write you a check.’ right now and that schools need,” she told CP24.

Kidder said the pandemic had exposed “many cracks” in the education system and the government needed to figure out how it wanted to move forward.

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“There are provinces and territories outlining a broader view of education and determining not just ad hoc things, but what do we need to do to make sure kids have the wide range of skills they need to be able to collaborate, to solve difficult problems, to understand what is real information and what is not,” she said.

Lecce’s announcement came after new data from the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) 2021-2022 was released Thursday morning.

The latest assessment indicates that the majority of sixth graders are still failing to meet the provincial standard in math. Only 47% achieved the grade, which is 3% less than the number of students who achieved it in 2018-2019.

Meanwhile, 59% of Grade 3 students met the provincial math standard, while 52% of Grade 9 students did.

-With files from Hannah Alberga of CTV News Toronto