Education minister now opposes cash-for-grades idea Classroom

The Canadian Press

TORONTO - Ontario''s governing Liberals will do whatever it takes to stop Canada''s largest school board from paying poor students to do well in class, Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky said Thursday.

Right now, the Toronto District School Board''s anti-poverty task force is only looking at the possibility of paying needy kids to attend school and get good grades.

But if they decided to move ahead with it, the provincial government will do what it can to block the move, Dombrowsky vowed.

"I would do whatever I could," she said.

Dombrowsky''s strong words were a marked departure from Wednesday, when she repeatedly refused to give her opinion about the controversial concept, saying the decision should be left up to the school board.

But she switched gears Thursday after the Opposition demanded to know if provincial money would be used to fund a cash-for-grades program.

"We don''t support that idea," Dombrowsky told the legislature.

"We have listened to what the people of Ontario told us. They made it very clear."

Outside the chamber, the minister insisted that she always opposed the idea and wasn''t swayed by critics who compare it to bribery.

"First and foremost as a mom, I don''t think it''s a good idea," said the former Catholic school board trustee.

"There are many ways to support better student achievement. I believe that our focus on literacy and numeracy -- and our investment in human resources and other infrastructure -- demonstrates that you can get results for students by doing that."

But the Opposition Conservatives, who brought up the issue in the legislature, said the minister is backtracking in the face of public opposition.

Some schools in the United States experimented with a cash-for-grades program but found that it didn''t work, said Tory education critic Elizabeth Witmer.

"If we''re going to help students that are at risk, this is not the way to do it," she said.

"The way to do it is to invest in front-line educational services that are going to actually help these students achieve success."

The idea of paying kids to do well in school is only one of the possibilities that the board''s task force said it will examine.

Lloyd McKell, who heads the task force, argued it''s not bribery, but another tool that could motivate kids to focus on their studies and lift themselves out of poverty.

The Toronto District School Board, which oversees more than 250,000 students in nearly 600 schools, has identified about 110 schools that need special help due to poverty.

The task force plans to hold public hearings -- probably in January or February -- before it produces a final report.

Write a comment about this article

No comments yet, be the first to comment.