Q: How is education funded in Ontario?
FUNDING FOR EDUCATION IS A PROVINCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
In 1997, the provincial government developed a funding formula for education. Before 1997, kindergarten to grade 12 education was paid for through a combination of provincial funding and funding from local property taxes. When education was funded through local property taxes and school boards were able to decide on tax rates for education, boards with a “richer” tax base (e.g. larger urban centres) had much more money to spend on education than boards with a very small tax base.
One of the goals of the provincial funding formula was to make education funding more equitable across the province. Many adjustments have been made to the formula since 1997, but the basic structure of the formula remains.
Per pupil funding
Much of education funding is tied to enrolment.
Funding for classroom teachers, education assistants, textbooks and learning materials, classroom supplies, classroom computers, library and guidance services, preparation time (which funds specialist and student success teachers), and professional and para-professional supports is all allocated on a per pupil basis. (e.g. for every 763 elementary students, the province provides funding for one teacher-librarian; for every 385 secondary students, the province provides funding for one guidance counsellor).
Funding to heat, light, maintain and repair schools also depends, for the most part, on student numbers. There is funding to maintain 104 square feet per elementary student, 130 square feet per secondary student and 100 square feet per adult education student. There is also some “top up” funding for schools that are just below the provincially-designated capacity.
While a proportion of boards’ funding is based on numbers of students, there are other grants added to the “per pupil” base (Special Education, English or French language support, Transportation, Declining Enrolment, Learning Opportunities etc.). Per pupil funding is not meant to be equal, as different boards have different needs. But it is meant to provide equal educational opportunity\ies for all students.
WHERE ARE THE DECISIONS MADE?
Each year, usually in March, the Ministry of Education announces changes and adjustments to education funding.
The province provides funding to school boards based on a number of factors, including the number of students in a board, the number of schools, the percentage of high needs special education students, the number of students who have either English or French as their second language, and based on some unique geographical needs (a high number of small schools, very far apart, for example).
But only the special education funding is “sweatered”, meaning it cannot be spent on anything but special education. Most other funding can be moved from one category to another, which means that many funding decisions are made at the board level.
The school board
School boards make decisions about individual schools’ budgets and on criteria for things like the numbers of students a school must have in order to get staff such as teacher-librarians, vice-principals or full-time principals. Boards distribute funding for teachers to schools depending on the number of students and, in some cases, depending on the number of students who might struggle to succeed – either because of socio-economic or ethno-racial factors or because of other special needs. Boards also decide which schools should stay open and which should close, and how many custodians, secretaries and educational assistants each school will get.
Principals receive a budget for the school from the school board. They make decisions about school maintenance and repairs within that budget, and about the distribution of teachers and class sizes. They decide how to allocate educational assistants and whether their school can have staff such as a teacher-librarian, a music teacher or department heads. Depending on the size of the school, principals may also allocate funding to different departments.
Principals also make decisions on fees and, with the school council, decide where fundraised money will be spent. Some schools augment their budgets to a great degree with money received through fundraising.
IS THERE ANY PUBLIC INPUT INTO EDUCATION FUNDING?
Yes, school councils, school boards, professional associations, parents’ organizations and the general public can all have input into the provincial budget for education. Consultations are usually held just before the end of the calendar year, or early in the new year. It is helpful to let the province know the effect of provincial funding on your school or board.