Ford government cuts funding to school councils

A provincial grant program intended to help get parents involved in schools is being cut considerably, leaving school councils facing a substantial funding shortage.

The Parents Reaching Out (PRO) grant is a provincial program that provides money to councils for small events designed to get parents engaged in the community. It had a cap of $1,000 per council per year.

Last fall, the provincial government announced the grants were being paused and reviewed. 

Ministry officials recently told CBC the budget for the grants will be reduced to $1.25 million, roughly half the amount handed out in previous years.

School boards will now decide how the money is spent, instead of councils applying to the ministry for funding. The ministry will also cap the amount that can be spent on refreshments, advertising, and administration at 10 per cent.

Alexandra Adamo, press secretary to the minister of education, said they want the funds put to better use.

"Under the former Liberal government, up to 60 per cent of the funding went to speakers, airfare, and hospitality," Adamo wrote in a statement.

"We believe that our changes will ensure the Parents Reaching Out grant will better utilize the funds to support projects that enable student learning and well-being."

Grants helped forge community

Lisa Greaves sits on two Ottawa school councils and is also treasurer for the Ottawa-Carleton Assembly of School Councils (OCASC), an umbrella organization for the councils. 

She said the grants have been enormously helpful in getting parents invested in their children's school life and have helped forge a sense of community.

"One or two events a year where you go somewhere and you make a friend and you learn something and you realize that you're not alone? That is profoundly important," Greaves said.

For instance, Greaves said one of her councils had many parents who didn't speak English as their first language — a challenge the grants helped navigate.

"We used it once to translate welcome letters to [those] parents, to try and get parents engaged in what we were trying to do," she said. 

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'Level playing field'

Malaka Hendela, co-chair of OCASC, said the grants have also been a big help for school councils that struggle to fundraise.  

Having access to an extra $1,000 created a "level playing field," she said.

"For the schools that have no fundraising capacity, it is going to mean the activities that they do with parents are going to go — unless there's replacement funding," she said.