The Ontario government has given Maggie an ultimatum: the disabled teen can lose her funding or her independence.
In the case of a student with multiple disabilities, a disability support grant pays for a full scholarship to an Ontario college or university.
It’s like a child-care subsidy – in these cases, that subsidy comes directly from the government.
In 2012, then-Education Minister Laurel Broten announced the federal government would increase the maximum grant for students with disabilities from $1,600 to $3,500.
In the past few weeks, the government has reversed that decision, offering $2,800 instead.
Instead of a full scholarship, Maggie’s mother, Mary, said her daughter now has to pay nearly a third of her $5,000 annual tuition.
While a scholarship offers financial security, it also allows an adult like Mary to have more personal say when it comes to the child’s education.
“My mom doesn’t know any other option. There’s no choice,” said Mary, 37, a high school shop teacher in the Ottawa area.
Maggie’s situation is typical of thousands of other kids with disabilities in Ontario, and the government has no clear answer as to whether they should lose their disability supports.
In 2008, Canada’s federal and provincial governments passed the Persons with Disabilities Act, giving all children with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorder, blindness, hearing disabilities and similar conditions a child-care allowance, transportation, medical and other expenses.
Under the current rules, the provinces have no choice but to accept the federal grant. But as the number of students with disabilities has gone up – about half of Ontario students with disabilities are enrolled in some form of public school – the government has had to address the issue.
In the past three years, an Ontario bill committee has studied the grants twice with a separate, third attempt in the spring. In all, the province has spent about $1.2 million on the grants, mostly in the spring session.
The government is adamant that its decision to reverse its own decision is an appropriate one.
But at a media event Tuesday in Ottawa to announce the new grant amount, education minister Liz Sandals defended the program.
“There are no easy answers,” Sandals told reporters.