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The elephant in the room? Over 70 percent of Ontario education spending goes toward paying teachers and education bureaucrats

Jay GoldbergAs Ontario families face the possibility of a looming teachers’ strike this fall, it’s important to know some key facts.

First, government funding for education has risen steadily over the past decade.

Ten years ago, the McGuinty government spent $24.2 billion on education. The Ford government’s 2023 budget, the province committed to spending $34.7 billion. That’s a 43 percent funding increase, which outpaces inflation plus population growth.

Second, the Ford government isn’t projecting any cuts to the education budget going forward.

The budget shows education spending increasing at an average annual rate of $600 million per year over the next five years.

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Third, Ontario spends more money per student than other large Canadian provinces.

Ontario spends $1,000 more per student each year than Alberta does, and Ontario outspends British Columbia by over $500 per student, according to a Fraser Institute report. Per student spending in Ontario is over $14,000 per year.

Despite these facts, Ontario’s teachers’ unions continue to argue that it isn’t enough.

“The system is suffering from chronic underfunding, under-resourcing, and understaffing, creating environments where student needs are going unmet,” Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario President Karen Brown said earlier this spring.

If enough resources truly aren’t getting into Ontario’s classrooms, it’s time to take a hard look at where education funding is being spent.

The real issue is teacher pay. That’s the elephant in the room the teachers’ unions don’t want to talk about.

Last year, more than half of all teachers made over $100,000. The number of teachers making six-figure salaries in 2022 was 65,510, more than double the number from 2020.

Looking at the overall education budget, spending on salaries dwarfs everything else. Over 70 percent of Ontario’s entire education budget goes toward paying teachers and education bureaucrats.

The average teacher now makes about $30,000 more than the average Ontario worker. And those salary numbers don’t even factor in the generous benefits and gold-plated pensions the government gives teachers. There’s also the fact that teachers work 74 percent of workdays each calendar year.

Ontario pays teachers far more than other large provinces do, as well. According to Statistics Canada, the base salary teachers in Quebec receive after working 15 years is $82,000. In B.C., that number is $91,000. In Ontario, it’s $101,000. Teachers in Ontario are $18,000 ahead of their counterparts in Quebec and $10,000 ahead of their peers in B.C.

Clearly, Ontario’s teachers are some of the best-paid in the country and enjoy a lot of perks. It’s time for Ontario’s teachers’ unions to recognize how well teachers in Ontario are compensated and think about the future they want for their students.

The province is now $400 billion in debt. This year, taxpayers will be forced to spend $12 billion on debt interest alone. If Ontario keeps piling up more and more debt, kids in classrooms today will have a massive debt tab to pay tomorrow. It’s time for the province to be fiscally responsible, and that means making tough choices when it comes to government spending.

If Ontario wasn’t on the hook for $12 billion in debt interest payments this year, the province could otherwise have doubled the number of teachers in classrooms across Ontario.

Debt has consequences. Students, unions and governments should all learn those lessons.

In the months ahead, the Ford government will be negotiating with Ontario’s teachers’ unions to try to keep kids in the classroom this fall. Negotiators on all sides should remember the huge fiscal hole taxpayers are currently facing and put the long-term interests of present students first. The Ford government needs to hold education spending in check.

Jay Goldberg is the Ontario & Interim Atlantic Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

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