Flawed funding formula behind Toronto school board woes: study

February 10, 2015

TORONTO – The political drama that's been unfolding at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) over school closures and tight funding is totally avoidable, says the author of a new study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives' Ontario office (CCPA-Ontario).

Economist Hugh Mackenzie has been tracking the performance of Ontario's education funding formula for 18 years and finds students across the province, but especially in Toronto, have been shortchanged by the province for almost two decades.

"Talk about shutting down schools and penalizing school board trustees makes for good political drama but it's overshadowing the root source of the problem: Ontario's education system is still suffering from a Mike Harris-era funding formula hangover," says Mackenzie.

"The formula was designed not to support students but to force school boards to cut back on programs," says Mackenzie. "Key features of a modern education system generate no funding at all; others are funded at less than their cost."

Mackenzie's study, Harris-era Hangovers: Toronto School Trustees' Inherited Funding Shortfall, details how chronic funding pressures have played out in TDSB schools since 1997, including:

  • Province-wide uniformity makes funding unresponsive to differences in the cost of providing the same services. In school operations, the TDSB is shortchanged by $174 for every elementary student and $228 for every secondary student;
  • Funding makes no allowance at all for uses of schools other than for classroom instruction;
  • The foundation grant doesn't generate enough funding to support basic services like libraries and guidance; the library shortfall alone shortchanges the TDB by $179 million;
  • Funding for programs to support students whose first language isn't French or English amounts to at least a $55 million shortfall; the shortfall in needed funding for at-risk students is another $60 million;
  • The TDSB's declining enrolment grant falls far short of what's needed to cushion the cost impact.

"The province talks about problems of accountability at the TDSB", says Mackenzie. "The real accountability problem is at the province, with the lack of any accountability for the adequacy of the funding of the system as a whole. Even Mike Harris recognized that provincial funding created an accountability gap, and committed to a five-year review cycle. Eighteen years later, the Eves government's 2002 review is the only one we've had."

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For more information please contact: Trish Hennessy CCPA-Ontario: 416-525-4927 or trish@policyaltnernatives.ca.

Download the study at www.policyalternatives.ca/ontario.

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