KITCHENER -- Waterloo Region is among several areas in Ontario receiving funding from the provincial government to hire more teachers and staff.

The province announced Thursday that it is providing $13.6 million to school boards in the red "control" tier.

The Region of Waterloo moved into that tier on Monday.

In a news release, officials also said the province is expanding testing in school communities and launching new online learning portals.

"Ensuring the safety of students, teachers and staff is our government's top priority. That's why we developed the most robust and comprehensive plan in the country to safely reopen schools," Premier Doug Ford said in the release. "This plan is now giving us the flexibility to expand voluntary testing and provide additional funding to support all of our school boards in priority communities."

The funding is for school boards in Waterloo Region, Durham, Halton and Hamilton "in response to the increase in COVID-19 cases in the communities."

Voluntary testing is now available to asymptomatic students and staff in those regions as well. The Ministry of Education will work with local health officials to help support implementing the testing.

In the release, the province said the funding will help ensure physical distancing with more teachers and staff, increase remote learning supports and improve cleanliness by hiring more custodians.

Patrick Etmanski, president of the Waterloo Catholic Teachers Association, called the funding announcement an empty gesture.

"As much as the board would love to get some money, I don't know what they'll spend it on," he said.

He added that the money might help hire teachers and cut back class sizes, but there are none to hire.

"Try and keep cohorts small and the money would go a long way with doing that if there were teachers to hire, but there are not," Etmanski said.

He also said there needs to be more staffing in general.

"Custodians, bus drivers, EAs, CYCWs, teachers, everyone, there are no more people to hire," Etmanski said.

The province hasn't said how the money will be divided between the school boards.

"Anything that can help class sizes is probably helpful," said Rob Gascho, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Association.

He also said people are facing burnout and there's a higher rate of people taking sick leave. There are also some supply teachers, but they might not be able to take on a full-time role.

Gascho added that spreading the funding out between the school boards will only leave them with a little piece.

Boards across Ontario have also received funding to help lessen unexpected declines in enrolment due to the pandemic.

The ministry is also working on a health and safety refresher for students returning to school in January with a focus on COVID-19 safety protocols.

With reporting by CTV News Kitchener's Carmen Wong