Pillar 2: The Funding Formula

Ontario’s education system does not exist without funding. Through the Grants for Student Needs funding formula and its 2 Foundation & 13 Special Purpose Grants, the provincial government supports 74 school boards, 5000 schools, 7,300 administrators, 113,000 teachers, and 2 million students. [1] Every dollar that goes into education serves a purpose with the intention of bettering the education system and the experience of the students within it. Through overhauling the funding formula, modifying program drivers, and implementing structural reforms to key aspects of the GSNs, it can be ensured that the provincial government continues to make one of the most important investments they can make: an investment in education, and an investment in students.

Funding Modern Student Needs: A Royal Commission on Education Finance Re- form

 Throughout the intricate network of policies and programming that form the foundation of our education system, the common thread that binds everything together is funding. Since the inception of the modern Grants for Student Needs system two decades ago, school boards across Ontario face a $15.9 billion [2] capital repair backlog, 80% of boards spend anywhere between $100,000-$81 million more on special education than provided, and rural students face geographical barriers which keep them from receiving the same quality of education as their peers in urban centres. All of these problems are due to the significant issues in funding inadequacies that have arisen due to few reviews and no major reforms of the formula. When examining funding adequacy through the objective basis of per-pupil funding, Ontario has recently ranked 5th out of all 10 provinces, 18th out of 18 when compared with the provinces and states in the Great Lakes Region, and 45th out of 61 across all Canadian Provinces, U.S. states, and the District of Columbia. [3] Throughout Ontario’s history, Royal Commissions have been transformative in making meaningful progress on many different issues. For example, through the Royal Commission on Learning from 1993-1995 major educational innovations such as EQAO, Student Trustees, and mandatory school board Multi-Year Strategic Plans were introduced. [4] A Royal Commission on funding reform will allow for the development of a transformative new funding formula that finally fully supports the needs of Ontario’s students. To truly ensure Ontario’s education system is sustainably, equitably, and adequately funded for all students

Recommendation 2.1: OSTA-AECO recommends that the Government of Ontario establishes a Royal Commission on Education Finance Reform and that it focus on the following guiding principles:

  • Enabling 21st-century learning
  • Supporting student well-being
  • Strengthening rural & northern schools
  • Enhancing equity
  • Supporting capital expansion & school renewal needs
  • Overall funding adequacy

A Standard of Good Repair for Ontario Schools

 One of the largest challenges facing Ontario’s education system is the growing state of disrepair of publicly-funded schools. The capital repair backlog has gone from $5.6 billion [5] in 2002, to $15.9 billion[6] as of 2017, and is projected to reach $17 billion[7] at the end of the 2018-2019 academic year. To fully eliminate this systemic issue, Ontario needs to take a proactive approach through establishing a new model for funding maintenance needs. Currently, the School Operations Allocation is mostly funded on a per-pupil basis. However, whether a school is under-capacity, at capacity, or over-capacity, it will deteriorate and age all the same. Utilization rates are arbitrary tools of measurement which have contributed greatly to the skyrocketing capital repair backlog in our schools. Seeing as it is extremely difficult for students to succeed if they are shivering in class, the provincial government must create a standard for good repair which is localized for unique costs, individualized through school-based funding, and be completely detached from utilization rates. It should be provincial through consistent standards across the board for the temperature that is conducive for learning, cleanliness, and facilities’ upkeep requirements. Consequently,

Recommendation 2.2: OSTA-AECO recommends that the provincial government work in consultation with school boards to adopt a Standard of Good Repair, as proposed by the “Fix is Not In” report written by economist Hugh Mackenzie for the School Facility and Operations Grant.

“In Grade 6, I remember an ageing pipe burst, causing my elementary school’s electricity system to fail and cancelling class for the day. In Grade 8, I remember a massive rainstorm hitting and flooding through my middle school’s deteriorating roof, forcing my science class to relocate for a month. This past fall, I had to switch seats in my Grade 12 law class because water kept dripping onto my notes and tests. One of the constants in all of the schools I’ve been at appears to be a state of deep disrepair.” Grade 12 Student, Toronto DSB

Achieving Funding Adequacy: Updating Benchmarks Across the Board

Benchmarks are cost standards in the funding formula that [8] play a core part of virtually every set of calculations that go into determining the GSNs. They can be broken down into two components: factors and costs. Benchmark factors represent the activities or requirements that trigger a cost, such as legislated class size standards, contractual compensation obligations, or ministry mandates set out by regulation. Benchmark costs are the standard or average dollar amount cost for that particular factor. [9] As the last independent review of the funding formula by the Education Equality Taskforce Report stated; “Benchmarks affect everything from the number of funding boards receive to cover their costs in the areas of salaries and benefits for administrators, teachers, and support staff; to learning resources such as textbooks, classroom supplies, computers, and related administrative costs; school operations, including heating, lighting, maintenance, cleaning, and insurance; construction, including renovations and major repairs (“school renewal”) and additions or new buildings (“new pupil places”)”. [10] One of the root causes of the significant funding inadequacies in Ontario’s education system is the benchmarks that have not meaningfully reviewed since the GSNs were established in 1997. The Education Equality Taskforce Report projected that updating benchmarks to keep up with inflationary costs & enrollment growth expenses would cost $1.01 billion [11] in 2002, which adjusted for inflation is about $1.4 billion [12] today. Due to limited reviews in the past two decades, benchmarks have become severely out of date in many areas of the GSNs. This is a large part of the reason so many boards struggle with meeting student needs in areas of special education, capital repairs/maintenance, and student transportation in particular. The Auditor General in her 2017 annual report also spotlighted how fifteen years later, the findings and recommendations of the Education Equality Taskforce had not been implemented, particularly around funding adequacy and benchmarks. [13] In order to support the needs of Ontario’s students, investments must be made from a reputable and accurate basis, rather than using benchmark frameworks from 20 years ago. For this reason,

Recommendation 2.3: OSTA-AECO calls on the Government of Ontario adopt the recommendation of the 2002 Education Equality Taskforce and the 2017 Auditor General Report and have the Ministry of Education, in consultation with school boards, educators, and other stakeholders, develop a mechanism for biennially reviewing and updating benchmarks in the funding formula.

Modernizing the Learning Opportunities Grant

The Learning Opportunities Grant (LOG) is a portion of the GSNs that was established in 1998 to provide school boards with funding for investments in at-risk students. The LOG is currently comprised of 10 different allocations, with the largest and original portion being the Demographic Allocation. The Demographic Allocation provides $362.9 million in funding as of the 2018-19 school year, which targets the following four specific socio-economic indicators: Low income, recent immigration, low parental education, and single-parent families. [14] However, most of the factors in this allocation have been unreformed since the grant was first introduced in 1997, even though Ontario has seen significant social and economic changes in the 21st century. Precarious employment, housing unaffordability, food insecurity, and the broader decreases in income security define the socio-economic realities of today’s students and their families. An updated set of factors for the Demographic Allocation will ensure that the funding provided through the LOG is directed towards the modern socio-economic barriers that exist today.

The Learning Opportunities Grant (LOG) is a portion of the GSNs that was established in 1998 to provide school boards with funding for investments in at-risk students. The LOG is currently comprised of 10 different allocations, with the largest and original portion being the Demographic Allocation. The Demographic Allocation provides $362.9 million in funding as of the 2018-19 school year, which targets the following four specific socio-economic indicators: Low income, recent immigration, low parental education, and single-parent families. [15] However, most of the factors in this allocation have been unreformed since the grant was first introduced in 1997, even though Ontario has seen significant social and economic changes in the 21st century. Precarious employment, housing unaffordability, food insecurity, and the broader decreases in income security define the socio-economic realities of today’s students and their families. An updated set of factors for the Demographic Allocation will ensure that the funding provided through the LOG is directed towards the modern socio-economic barriers that exist today.

Recommendation 2.4: Thus, OSTA-AECO recommends that the Government of Ontario work with school boards to update the socio-economic indicators that drive the Demographic Allocation to include factors such as; the number of families on social assistance, regional unemployment rates, languages other than English or French is spoken at home and housing instability/frequent homelessness.

Class Sizes Matter

 In Ontario’s education system, the classroom is where change truly starts. Through the work of world-class teachers and education workers, students receive individualized, one-on-one support from caring educators who understand their needs. It is through the classroom that transformative programs that enhance student success are implemented. These individualized supports and specialized courses are heavily dependent on class sizes. Through examining objective indicators[16] of student achievement, lower class sizes have paid significant dividends in recent years. For instance, in 2007 the provincial government lowered class size averages at the primary level from 25[17] to 90% of classes having to be 20 or fewer. [18] As a result, Grade 3 Reading & Writing went from 49% & 52% in 2000 to 75% & 72% in 2017-18. [19] Grade 6 Reading & Writing has increased from 55% & 53% in 2000[20] to 82% & 80% in 2017-18. Secondary class sizes were similarly lowered to 22 pupils. Consequently[21], student success on a variety of indicators increased substantially. 84%36 of Academic students and 45%[22] of Applied students in 2017-18 met the standard in the Grade 9 mathematics EQAO. Furthermore, the graduation rate has significantly increased to 86.3%38 in 2017-18 from about 70% in 2000.[23] Recently, the provincial government announced a significant increase to secondary class size averages from 22 students to 28. This will result in classrooms of 40 students in the near future. Educators cannot be expected to know the needs of every student and no program can be effectively implemented with classes of that size. This has a detrimental effect on student learning as students will no longer receive adequate individualized support. In the past two decades, smaller classes have allowed Ontario’s students to flourish and achieve at significantly higher levels than before. Consequently,

Recommendation 2.5: OSTA-AECO strongly recommends that the provincial government reverse its class size increases, and maintain the 2018-19 class size average of 22 pupils in Grades 9-12.

Opening the Door of Opportunity to Post-Secondary: Restoring OSAP

“One of the roughest transitions I’ve experienced was the transition between Grade 9 and Grade 10 math. My Grade 10 academic math class had nearly 35 kids, which meant my teacher had very little time to give me the one-on-one extra help I needed to succeed. I really struggled in the course, which led me to drop down to applied math and closed off some post-secondary paths for me.” Student, Toronto DSB

Supporting Innovation in Education: Local Priorities Funding

 For decades, Ontario’s school boards have been leaders in education policy innovation. From student well-being to student achievement, school boards have been using their limited amounts of discretionary budget to aid in the development of several areas in education. Ontario has a long history of local priorities funding, with the province providing discretionary funding of $200 per student in the early 2000s.[24] More recently, countless boards across Ontario have used the discretionary funds provided through the Learning Opportunities Grant (LOG) to design similarly impactful programs to enhance student equity. As of 2017-2018, the LOG temporarily features a two year Local Priorities Fund (LPF) of $235 million. [25] Through the LPF, Ontario’s school boards have been able to hire 875 teachers and 1,600-1,800 education workers better support. This has allowed for more special education support staff to help students with learning exceptionalities thrive and additional caring adults to operate programming for at-risk students. In order to achieve improved outcomes sought by the provincial government on a variety of indicators, school boards require autonomy to fulfill localized needs and craft solutions that match the strengths and needs of their individual student populations. A central, “one-size-fits-all” funding formula cannot achieve this alone.

Recommendation 2.6: OSTA-AECO recommends that the Government of Ontario makes the current Local Priorities Fund in the Learning Opportunities Grant permanent, and work with school boards to meaningfully expand it to ensure that it is sufficiently funded to allow for local innovation.

References   [ + ]

1. Office of the Auditor General of Ontario, Ministry Funding and Oversight of School Boards. (Toronto: Office of the Auditor General of Ontario, 2015).
2. Ontario Ministry of Education, School Facility Condition Data. (Toronto: Government of Ontario, 2017).
3. Ibid., 15
4. Hugh Mackenzie, Shortchanging Ontario Students: An Overview and Assessement of Education Funding in Ontario. (Toronto: E.T.F.O, 2017).
5. Beatrice Shriever, For the love of learning: 10 years later. (Ontario College of Teachers, 2005).
6. Mordecai Rozansky, Investing in Public Education: Advancing the Goal of Continuous Improvement in Student Learning and Achievement; Report of the Education Equality Task Force (Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2002).
7. Ibid., 16
8. Hugh Mackenzie, The Fix is not in Report (Toronto: Fix Our Schools, 2017).
9. Office of the Auditor General of Ontario, Annual Report 2015. (Toronto: Office of the Auditor General of Ontario, 2015), 428-441.
10, 14. Ibid., 23
11. Ibid., 20
12. Ibid., 25
13. Bank of Canada Inflation Calculator. (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2019).
15.  Ibid., 23
16. Ontario Ministry of Education, School Board Progress Reports. (Toronto: Government of Ontario, 2015).
17. Ontario Ministry of Education, Technical Paper 2018-19. (Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2018).
18. Ibid., 30
19. Education Quality and Accountability Office, 2002-2003 Annual Report. (Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2002).
20. Ibid., 32
21. Ontario Ministry of Education, Technical Paper 2007-2008. (Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2007).
22. Education Quality and Accountability Office, Grade 9 Academic Mathematics Course: Achievement Results. (Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2018).
23.  Ibid., 37
24.  Ibid., 18
25. Joshua Paul, Memorandum: Grants for Student Needs (GSN) for 2017–18. (Toronto: Ontario Ministry of Education, 2017)