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Horwath announces $60M Open Schools Fund

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath in Toronto on Sunday September 25, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Vincent Elkaim.

Aging and underutilized schools across Ontario will be able to get a financial boost should the NDP win the election in June, the party’s leader says.

Speaking outside Queen’s Park on Saturday, Andrea Horwath announced that her government will establish an Open Schools Fund, which will help with renovations to aging schools and help communities make better use of the buildings.

The announcement coincided with a Liberal release accusing the NDP leader of billing taxpayers for thousands of dollars in expenses — behaviour she didn’t condone of others. Horwath said she spends a lot of time on the road and cleared her expenses with the integrity commissioner before submitting them.

“Schools in our communities can become used by non-profit groups and by communities if that’s what the community desires,” Horwath explained. “School boards can also apply to the fund to help with renovations to make sure that schools can be adapted for changing needs for the school.”

Horwath said $60 million will be put into the fund annually, which school boards will be able to access through applications starting in 2016.

She then pointed the finger at her opponents, saying their policies have been responsible for forced school closures.

“Both Conservatives and Liberals have left school boards with no choices but to shut down schools and tear them out of the communities and people have been telling me across this province that that’s not what they want to see,” she said.

Horwath says that from small towns to big cities, schools form the heart of neighbourhoods across the province.

“Lets give the communities, lets give the school boards a little bit more of an option, a few more choices to try to adapt the schools to community use.”

The Liberals have not announced an education policy but included $11 billion to build or repair schools in their spring budget.

The Tories, meanwhile, have vowed to eliminate 9,700 “non-teaching positions,” increase class sizes and reduce the number of early childhood educators in full-day kindergarten classes as part of their effort to balance the budget.

MPP Liz Sandals, who is Ontario’s education minister, said that Horwath was scrambling to change the topic after Liberals revealed that the NDP leader billed taxpayers for muffins, taxi rides and parking.

Sandals also accused Horwath of putting her own political interests first by opposing the budget, which included $4.2 billion to help local school boards address repair needs over the next 10 years. And she said by forcing the unnecessary election Howath has given PC Leader Tim Hudak the chance to impose massive education cuts if he wins.

With files from The Canadian Press