Ontario budget 'modest' help for students

McGuinty honours textbook grant promise, but offers little to low-income students

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced Tuesday his government’s first budget since the provincial election in fall. Although it provides some assistance to students, there is “room for improvement,” according to student groups.

Finance Minister Dwight Duncan unveiled the new provincial budget, which includes a textbook and technology grant of $385 million over three years to help students with the cost of textbooks and computers. The plan will start out next year as $150 credit per student and will go up to $300 in the next three years.

“I think it’s absolutely the right budget for this time,” Deb Matthews, MPP for London North Centre, said. “Students told us that the textbook hit in September hurts, and so we’re recognizing that.”

A $27-million distance grant will go towards travel expenses for students travelling from remote areas.

David Simmonds, VP-university affairs and president of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, said the distance grant was an agenda he pushed for when dealing with the province.

Many students cannot afford to attend their first-choice university because of travelling expenses and thus distance is a barrier to post-secondary education.

While Simmonds was pleased with the plans unveiled by the province, he is not completely satisfied with the amount of money allocated to students and thought there was room for improvement.

“The textbook and technology grant speaks to an acknowledgement that the cost of education is growing outside of traditional indicators such as tuition, and that relief and support must follow,” Simmonds said. “But the amount being distributed will not adequately impact access for low income and underrepresented students.

“I think what this budget does is it highlights all the high-need areas in the province ... but it does it in a very modest way.”

He added, “We’re going to use this as an opportunity to amplify our cry to have a more significant allocation made to student assistance.”

Attorney General and MPP for London West Chris Bentley commended the provincial government on its budget: “It speaks to the future and prosperity of London ... speaking to ways that ensure our students get the highest quality education.”

Matthews also pointed out the benefit of the business tax break to universities like Western. The money will provide a 10-year tax holiday to help with the commercialization of any ideas developed in a college or university.

“It will really support [the transition] from the idea to the actual product,” she said.

Although infrastructure normally falls under the budget of municipalities, London will also benefit from a $5.8-million contribution towards its roads and bridges.

“Anyone who travels around London these days knows that we could use some construction,” Matthews admitted.

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