Parent Outreach grant program paused
By Darren Lum
Published Nov. 22, 2018
A decision by the provincial government to place a “pause” on some funding, which includes the Parent Outreach (PRO) grant, is leaving local school and parent councils scrambling to make up the difference.
During question period last month, Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced there wouldn’t be any Parent Outreach grants awarded until further notice, as funding for a number of programs would be put on “pause,” as reported by the CBC.
Thompson added the pause will remain “as the government re-evaluates its financial priorities for public education.” The province has also said this decision was based on an effort to resolve the “fiscal hole” left behind by the previous provincial government and will ensure protection of healthcare and education.
Area councils have used the grant (capped at $1,000) for the past several years and have come to use the money to facilitate engagement between parents/guardians and schools and outreach programming. Around the province the grant has helped school councils with programming related to literacy, mathematics, science, technology, bullying, mental health, health and wellness, Indigenous education, culture and fitness.
J. Douglas Hodgson Elementary School school council co-chairperson Sam Itani, who started her involvement with school councils at Stuart Baker Elementary School and also supports the Trillium Lakelands District School Board District School Council as one of two Haliburton County co-chairpersons on the Parent Involvement Committee, is uncertain about booking speakers or organizing any future events asking, “what next”?
“The outcome of all of this is that it compromises our ability to support, provide resources for and connect with our parents/guardians through the school, and this is really unfortunate, as ultimately it impacts students and families, the intended beneficiaries of PRO grant funding and of our collective efforts. That is what these grants are all about: to support projects focused on engaging parents who may experience barriers such as language, transportation, socioeconomic, newness to Ontario’s education system or other factors,” she wrote in an email.
Itani said the JDHES school council had submitted an application for a grant to run a two-segment workshop/seminar style session for parents/guardians of students in local elementary schools - one in late fall 2018, and another in early spring 2019. The workshop is centered around TLDSB’s Feed All Four initiative (https://tldsb.ca/feed-all-
four/). Costs include guest speaker fees, materials for workshop attendees, childcare during the workshop, and light refreshments.
Itani adds the council applied for the maximum amount, “indicating in the application that JDHES council would partner with SBES to optimize resources, given that the cost of many guest speakers exceeds the funding maximum available to individual councils, and, in pooling our efforts and resources, we could find efficiencies while reaching a broader audience.”
So far, there have not been any event cancellations, she wrote. However there has been planning for the “possibility of cancelling, rescheduling or finding another way to make things happen, given that it’s mid-November and we have no information on status of the ‘pause’ other than media coverage on the issue.”
Itani said her council has discussed the possibility of making up the difference with fundraising, but acknowledges the fiscal challenges with this action.
“The challenges we face are that there are other, ongoing school fundraising initiatives that we both compete with and support, and, we already rely on the generosity of volunteers and leverage financial and in-kind donations from across the community. So, we need to be thoughtful in our approach, and have more work to do as we consider the options on how to achieve our goals in the absence of this funding,” she wrote.
In Minden, this decision by the provincial government was met with frustration said Archie Stouffer Elementary School parent council chairperson Jessica Noble
“We use this money for parent engagement and education,” she said. “Historically we have hosted event nights where we invite parents and the public to come and gain knowledge on certain topics, ranging from mental health, wellness, healthy living choices and physical activity, with the option to meet and get with local agencies who provide supports. We also have held fun nights where we have offered different fun activities to engage parents and students.”
Noble started on council six years ago because of her eldest of two sons. Noble said for the last six years she’s served the council has applied for and used the grant.
Last year, the parent council used the grant to hold a “fun night” with information on cyber bullying, which included guests such as service providers and the OPP, who provided education about the dangers of social media to the parents/guardians to keep children safe. Events based on healthy living and suppers were also held.
The grant was also used to support school-led initiatives such as the Leadership Day, which is related to Feed all Four philosophy outlined by the TLDSB, when students are empowered to be leaders by taking visitors through the school.
Although the parent council will still be able to contribute to the event from money made through past years’ fundraising, the lack of grant money means there will not be an evening education component like last year.
Another result of the paused funding is the cancellation of engagement night that was scheduled for the spring. Last year the theme was social media while other years it’s been based on mathematics, or just a fun night.
When asked about bridging the financial gap left from the “pause” of provincial funding, Noble said the generosity and support the corecondimmunity during fundraisers is key to providing options to the council.
“We’re lucky enough to still have some funds to supplement events like Leadership Day, but it will affect parents in the way that they won’t be able to ... they won’t have that extra night when they can come in and just talk openly with the teachers (and principal) ... In all the nights we’ve hosted we’ve always brought in community members like service providers like mental health service providers,” she said.
Some of the guests are representatives that parents may not otherwise have access to, and they will lose an opportunity to ask questions of those people.
“Allowing them resources for things not only for their children, but education for themselves as well and how to stay healthy. Mental health supports and that sort of thing. Strengthening the family unit as a whole is important to our school and our parent council. It’s important to keep parents engaged in their children’s education,” she said.
The school council has met since the government’s decision, but at this time nothing concrete has been established.
One of the ways Noble hopes to change the mind of the provincial government to bring back the funding is by signing the Ontario Association of Parent in Catholic Education online petition: https://www.ipetitions.com/
petition/pro-grant. The goal is 1,000 signatures.
The petition reads, “Since 2006, the Ontario government has supported our 22,000 PRO grants to school councils and over 900 regional / provincial PRO grants. This is a total investment of $34.7 million to help increase parent engagement at the local, regional, and provincial levels. Now the provincial government wants to put a pause on this very important funding, impacting parent engagement a key part of their children’s learning and of Ontario’s success in education.”
Noble has seen a lot of benefits for everyone in the community with events funded by the grant and asks the government to reconsider its decision.
“Push play because this grant is so important in engaging children. It gives children the opportunity [to say] ‘Hey, this is important to us. We want to learn more about this.’ It gives parents the opportunity to reach out to the school, to other parents, it gives them social opportunities, it gives them the opportunity to be involved in their children’s education and have a say so all of that is really, really important and this grant allows us to give that opportunity to parents,” she said.