Traditionally, in most jurisdictions, staffing was allocated on a PTR formula. That is, for example, for every X number of students, there is funding for 1 teacher. It used to be that that was the end of the story. Schools would be allocated the requisite number of staff as per the formula, and the Principal would assign teachers as she/he saw fit. This often meant that a large history class might be used to off-set a small German language cohort or learning resource programme. However, over the years, class size maximums began to be legislated by provincial governments or negotiated through Collective Agreements. While meaning improvements in working conditions for teachers, it resulted in staffing nightmares for administrators. All of a sudden, that History class of 30 students had to be split to adhere to a lower maximum. The result was that schools had to make the hard choices of cutting other programmes (goodbye German!) in order to staff under the new guidelines. This was particularly challenging in small rural schools where one or two students over the max could result in staffing shortages or a variety of split grade classes in order to comply. It may sound like heresy, but in my experience, a class of 30 elementary students, with two teachers is a far more productive learning environment than two classes of 15 with a single instructor in each.
The "solution" was to tie funding to students, not staffing. As a result, school districts were given a pool of dollars to allocate under the constraints of class size maximums and other negotiated staffing requirements. The result was the disappearance of librarians, music programmes, counsellors, etc. from schools. Classes were smaller, but the quality of the educational experience was diminished.
Currently, British Columbia is suffering under the limitations to staffing flexibility imposed by a Supreme Court reinstatement of class size and composition restrictions negotiated in 2002. Needless to say, education has changed in the past more than 15 years, and the imposition of outdated guidelines on the new realities of schools has created disruption in the quality of programming, particularly for students with special needs. While there is no question that in the next round of negotiations, both sides will work to fix this situation, it points to the problematic nature of staffing by formula, rather than by need.
Back to Ontario where the nonsensical arguments that larger classes will build "resilience" (here's the ultimate legacy of the "grit" movement!) and that students can help each other, or that parents can hire tutors are just cover for the fact that some politicians are more than willing to write off marginalized groups of students, and raise the drop-out rate, in order to streamline the education system and lower costs (fewer students = fewer teachers). As long as education remains a political football between big government and big labour, meaningful change will remain out of reach.
In the final analysis, this is a two pronged problem. School districts need to be better resourced to ensure that the complex needs of their learners can be met. Government purse-strings need to be opened further, not tightened, in order to make this happen. Secondly, staffing constraints need to be loosened up or eliminated. Class size and composition requirements are discriminatory and restrictive and focus on working conditions rather than the quality of education for all learners. School districts and Principals need to be given more autonomy to determine the best local allocation of their resources and to be answerable to students and their parents, not Provincial governments and unions as to how to best serve their communities.