Ontario trails in education spending study

TheStar.com – News/parentcentral.ca – Ontario trails in education spending study
November 05, 2009.   Kristin Rushowy, Education Reporter

Ontario ranks near the bottom in education spending per student compared to other provinces and most U.S. states, says a study being released Thursday by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

And school boards have been raising an “astonishing” $538 million a year – or 3 per cent of their operating costs – through fundraising to help fill in the gap, says the study by economist and research associate Hugh Mackenzie.

The fundraising, which covers the amount parents might bring in through festivals as well as revenues from things like vending machines, works out to an average of $117,500 per school, Mackenzie says.

The report notes that while Ontario does spend more on education than it did in 1997 – the year before the then-Conservative government stripped school boards of their taxation powers and ushered in a central funding formula – “it is misleading.”

The present Liberal government has targeted $1.8 billion in new funding for things like smaller class sizes and more preparation time for teachers, but that hasn’t helped address the shortfalls in funding for basics such as building maintenance and special education.

With that new money factored out, in Toronto alone, the public and Catholic boards are being shortchanged about $500 million compared to 1997 funding levels and the public and Catholic boards in Peel, York and Durham another $500 million.

Education ministry spokeswoman Michelle Despault said she hadn’t read the report so couldn’t comment on the specifics.

But she said if Mackenzie had “done his work responsibly then he will have acknowledged the more than $5 billion that we have invested into education, the structural changes that we have made to the funding formula every year since 2003, the new programs we have introduced and the better results we are delivering for our kids.”

Janet McDougald, chair of the Peel District School Board, said her board is struggling as it falls farther behind financially and is now enlisting the help of parents.

Her board, despite being one of the few in the province with growing enrolment, is funded $838 less per pupil than the provincial average – which, if brought up to par, would mean an extra $52 million for the board, she said.

At a meeting with school councils this year, parents were informed of the funding gap and the board will be putting together a “tool kit” of things like form letters, petitions as well as politicians’ contact information, McDougald said.

Mackenzie said the province needs an independent body to monitor public education and funding levels. Ontario ranks ninth of 13 Canadian jurisdictions when it comes to education funding, and below the national average. Forty-five U.S. states spend more on education than Ontario.

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