Funding public schools

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial
Published On Sat Sep 04 2010

Students of all backgrounds and family incomes learning together and getting the same opportunities: that’s the idea behind public schools.

But, when parents in the well-to-do neighbourhoods are able to raise funds among themselves to hire an art instructor while those in the lower-income areas cannot, or when students are required to pay a fee to access the school library or to play on a sports team, that principle is undermined.

According to a new report by the parent advocacy group People for Education, Ontario’s public schools now rely on nearly $600 million from private fundraising, user fees, corporate donations and other revenue sources, including vending machines and cafeterias.

We’ve moved well beyond the days when bake sales helped subsidize a special school trip. Now parents are fundraising for school supplies or paying fees for science labs and French workbooks.

Schools that charge student “activity” fees say no one will be turned away if they can’t afford to pay. But why should any student have to go to the principal’s office and ask for special treatment? The danger is that poorer students will naturally gravitate away from science and music classes because they know their parents can’t afford the fees. Our public school system should not stifle student interests or determine their academic future in such a negative way.

“What we will not and cannot accept here in Ontario is that kids are out there fundraising for the basics,” acknowledges Premier Dalton McGuinty.

In 2005, his government promised a policy to address fundraising and limit the need for it by “ensuring education essentials are provided.” Five years, later, though, we’re still waiting for the policy.

Meanwhile, private fundraising is becoming entrenched in our public schools. This is a recipe for inequity.

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