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Province to fund school construction

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TORONTO—Ontario will spend $784 million this year to build or renovate 79 schools across the province, but opposition critics say it's not enough to address a growing multi-billion-dollar repair backlog.

Education minister Mitzie Hunter said the funding announced yesterday will support construction of 39 new schools, and additions and renovations to 40 additional facilities.

The work will include development of child care centres in the schools, with plans to create 2,700 new child-care spaces.

“Ontario is committed to building learning environments that support student achievement and well-being,” Hunter said in a statement.

“That's why we continue to invest in new, renovated, and expanded schools so that every student can learn and grow in a space that enables them to reach their full potential.”

The government said the announcement comes in addition to a funding commitment made by the province last year to spend $1.4 billion on school repairs.

Ontario has an approximate $15-billion repair backlog at its 4,900 publicly-funded schools.

Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown said the funding announced yesterday doesn't go far enough to address the accumulated repair backlog and that students are learning in sub-standard conditions in some instances.

“I've toured schools where there is asbestos in the walls, doors and windows that won't close, and boilers that break down,” Brown said in a statement.

“It's a bit late now, before an election, for the Liberals to make a promise that should have been made years ago,” he added.

“Students deserve better.”

NDP education critic Peggy Sattler also said the funding wasn't adequate.

“The government has not been making those ongoing annual investments that are required to chip away at some of the deterioration that has occurred in our educational infrastructure across the province,” she charged, characterizing the cash as a re-packaged funding commitment from the 2017 budget.

Sattler said the way the province funds schools needs to be re-built. Currently, the funding formula doesn't accurately project the maintenance and repair needs of schools, she noted.

“Slowly, year-over-year, that backlog was allowed to grow,” she said.

In November, the Toronto District School Board estimated its repair backlog—which sat at $3.7 billion in 2017, up $200,000 from 2016—represents nearly a quarter of the entire backlog for the province.

“Additional provincial funding and a new funding strategy with new sources of revenue is needed,” board chairwoman Robin Pilkey said at the time.

Sattler also was critical of the child-care component of yesterday's announcement, saying the government needs to do more to address affordability for parents.

“The spaces aren't going to help all these families who are going to have to pay the equivalent of a second mortgage every month to put their child in child care,” she said.

The province previously has announced it will spend $1.6 billion over the next five years to create 45,000 new licensed child-care spaces in schools and other public spaces.

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