Dear Minister Lecce,
The Toronto District School Board understands that our province is currently focused on containing and managing the current health crisis of COVID-19 – and we thank you for your efforts. However, we do not want your government to lose sight of the grants and programs that have historically helped some of our most vulnerable communities and at-risk youth. Specially, when it is safe to do so, we hope that you will continue to invest in the Focus on Youth Summer Program and the Community Use of Schools Grant.
As you know, the Focus on Youth Summer Program is designed to support some of our most at-risk youth by providing them with opportunity to gain valuable work experience and participate in safe-space activities that promote physical fitness and life-long skills. The program has documented evidence of helping our most marginalized communities, and has sought to respond to the high rates of youth violence, poverty and lack of opportunities for youth in our city.
Since 2016, the Focus on Youth Summer Program has allowed the TDSB to hire and train approximately 2,667 secondary school students to work alongside community agencies that serve some of the city’s most vulnerable youth. Last year, we were able to hire 614 students and the program benefited more than 11,500 youth across the city.
We understand that this summer the program will evolve into online opportunities for youth, but we want to make sure that when it’s safe for the program to revert back to its original in-person format, that the funding will remain the same as previous years. It’s important that our youth continue to benefit from the many opportunities this program offers.
As for the Community Use of Schools Grant, we were disappointed that the funding for last year was reduced by one million. This grant subsidizes school boards to offer free permitting for the use of schools, which allows for extra supports and programs to operate out of our schools for youth and families facing socio-economic challenges. For the Toronto District School Board, this subsidy provided free permits for the use of 77 of our schools on the priority list (low socio-economic).
Since your government has come into power, it seems that on top of cuts to education, you have also targeted grants, supports and programs that are aimed at helping our most vulnerable communities and at-risk youth. This is a major concern as many of our youth are already suffering from the negative impacts of this pandemic, including school closures, distancing from their family and friends, and mental health and well-being struggles brought on by the stress of all of it. We believe, more than ever, our youth could benefit from programs and supports like those mentioned above when our city is safe and operations return to normal.
Again, please know that we understand that this is a difficult time for the people of our city, province and country, but we do hope that part of the Ministry’s post COVID-19 plans will be funding for programs that benefit so many youth and their families. If so, we hope that you will confirm funding as quickly as possible, so that staff can plan a program that will help normalize the lives of our youth after this health crisis. We also ask that the Community Use of Schools Grant be re-instated to the original amount of $2.2 million.
As always, I am more than happy to discuss this with you further.
Robin Pilkey, CPA, CA, ICD.D
Chair, Toronto District School Board