Our contribution to the provincial pre-budget consultation process

Fix Our Schools contributed this submission to the provincial pre-budget consultation process. It highlights that the $1.4 billion/year our provincial government is currently allocating for school renewal is simply not enough to start to reduce the $15.9 billion of disrepair in Ontario’s schools. To make up for the 20 years when provincial funding was a mere fraction of what it ought to have been as per industry standards, economist Hugh Mackenzie suggests that an additional investment of $1.6 billion/year is needed to start to truly fix Ontario’s schools as per the following breakdown:

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Brand New School in Windsor; Students in Portables on Opening Day?

Ontario’s current approach to funding education and schools was implemented 20 years ago and it simply does not work. There are examples everywhere we look: massive repair backlogs, students’ learning being negatively impacted by their school conditions, staff teaching in rooms with outrageous temperatures or no windows.

Imagine being a rare student in Ontario who gets a NEW school built in their community! No leaking roofs, washrooms that have doors, no bugs, alarm/fire systems that work, no lead in the water and structurally sound. 

In Windsor, students at St. Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Elementary School had that vision. However, when the Ministry of Education had finished their funding and design calculations, and the school was built – the brand new school was too small for the student population.

Parents were confused. “It’s a brand new school. You would think that they would fit all the students instead of making a portable for extra students,” said Aries Cabangon, who has one of his children learning inside of a portable.

As Fix Our Schools identified in this February 2017 blog post entitled, “Ontario communities each have unique educational issues”, no community in the province is being well served by the current provincial funding formula for education. With $15.9 billion of disrepair in Ontario schools, it is hard to fathom how no provincial government in the last 20 years has fixed this funding formula and repaired some of the most valuable public assets we own.

What’s going on at Queen’s Park?

Economist Hugh Mackenzie estimates that in order to eliminate the $15.9 billion of disrepair in Ontario’s publicly funded schools, an additional $1.6 billion per year in provincial funding is needed for repairing, maintaining and rebuilding schools.

The next provincial election is in June 2018. The Liberals have one more budget to issue before Ontarians head to the polls. The Ontario Liberal, PC and NDP parties are all preparing their election platforms in the hopes of forming the next provincial government.

Interesting times at Queen’s Park.

Queen's Park winterAt the PC policy convention in late November, Leader Patrick Brown revealed a “People’s Guarantee” and pledged not to run for a second term if he fails to deliver on five major commitments. Sadly, there was not even a mention of the $15.9 billion of disrepair in Ontario’s schools, let alone any commitment to an additional $1.6 billion per year in provincial funding to fix our schools. This was disappointing, given Brown’s willingness to take on the issue of disrepair in Ontario’s schools in June 2016.

In April, 2017, the Ontario NDP party unveiled their vision document, upon which their platform for the June 2018 election will be based. In it, the mounting repair backlog in Ontario’s schools is highlighted as an issue, noting that Ontario children are being sent to schools with leaky roofs and broken boilers. The NDP vision document states that “a New Democrat government will take immediate action to bring community schools up to a reasonable state of repair and address all repairs quickly moving forward.” However, no financial details have been outlined in an actual platform so it remains to be seen if the NDP party will commit the additional $1.6 billion per year needed to truly fix Ontario’s schools. 

When the Liberals took over from the PCs in 2003, they inherited a legacy that included $5.6 billion of disrepair in Ontario’s schools. Today, disrepair in Ontario’s schools stands at $15.9 billion – triple the amount of disrepair they inherited in 15 years ago. To reverse this appalling trend, an additional $1.6 billion per year must be committed to repairing, rebuilding and maintaining our schools. The upcoming Liberal budget will signal their level of commitment to ensuring all Ontario children attend school in a safe, well-maintained and healthy building.  

Interesting times indeed.

 

Why Does Infrastructure Matter?

The photo here shows a downtown Toronto water pipe exploding last winter. The hydro vault around the corner from me caught fire this fall. When dramatic incidents happen, we come to understand, up close, why we should all care about aging infrastructure. Standing in the dark, knee deep in water we say “I get it!”

I remember as a child knowing when we’d crossed the border to the United States because the ride got a lot bumpier. Now it is our highways that are a rough ride. Highways take the brunt of our commuting in cars because of a lack of fast, reliable public transportation.

School buildings are public infrastructure owned by taxpayers and are the hubs that allow us to educate our children and build a strong economy.

Taxpayers want dependable electricity, clean water and excellent education for their children and grandchildren.

But are there even more important reasons why we should care about infrastructure? Yes!

• Poor infrastructure affects our economy. New businesses to Canada want to see a solid infrastructure in place before they’ll invest. According to Dominque Gautier of Roland Berger Canada, the most important role the government can take right now is to incent long-term investors to focus on Canadian infrastructure. Continue reading

Build State-of-the Art Schools

The Ministry of Education refuses to fund any new school builds in Ontario’s North East next year. Although that school board doesn’t see the growth that some urban boards are seeing, they have a huge repair backlog to contend with, just like every public school board in Ontario.

group of school childrenAccording to the Province’s FCI rating, it would take almost 60% of the entire value of the building to repair R. Ross Beattie Sr Public School in Timmins. As taxpayers, we need to ask, “Does it always make sense to repair old school buildings?” We can positively impact student learning in this province by providing safe, well-maintained spaces to learn in, and as part of this solution we need to consider building new schools.

It will take a visionary provincial government to Fix Ontario’s Schools. Which party will form that government? They’ll need to replace the 346 schools deemed too expensive to repair and build 346 new state-of-the-art schools. Let’s prove that education matters in our province. Schools are essential to our economy and as such must be a priority.

Four Easy Effective Ways to Help Your Child Succeed In School

mother with small childWe’re past the first autumn weeks of school and into the darker days of winter. With Parent-Teacher interviews behind us, parents are naturally wondering, “How can we help our kids focus and succeed in school in this difficult season?” The People for Education have done a broad review of research on student success, and have come up with four main steps a parent/caregiver can take:

Have high (moderately) expectations for your child.
That means letting them know that working hard is worth it and will bring success. Let them know that your family values them doing well in school.

Ask them to review their school day with you. The dinner table is a great place to do this, but so is the car, where they can talk to the back of your head and feel more comfortable broaching difficult subjects.
Ask specific questions to get them going. “What’s the best/worst part of your day?”, “What was it like to do……” Give them a child-appropriate example from your day to model good conversation.

Encourage planning and self advocacy. Help them to chunk down activities into doable parts and to ask for help when they need it. “What do you think you could try next time to get that project done on time?”

Read together.  Oddly enough, reading to your child increases the chance of them being a good reader. Read magazines, maps, comics, picture books, non-fiction, newspapers. To get help finding better read-aloud books, try anthologies such as the bestselling, fact-driven “Read-Aloud Handbook”, by Jim Trelease.

Province tells school boards to notify parents about lead in drinking water

In the November 27, 2017 Toronto Star article entitled, “Education Minister asks school boards to notify parents of lead in drinking water in ‘timely manner‘”, the issue of lead in drinking water in schools and daycares in Ontario continues to be explored.

Education Minister Hunter claimed that the Province has a long-term plan to address lead in drinking water at schools and daycares, which includes the increased annual funding for school renewal of $1.4 billion/year. However, Fix Our Schools was cited as saying that this amount is “not enough to address the backlog of various repairs needed at schools across the province.” Indeed, there is a $15.9 billion repair backlog in Ontario’s schools and replacing all the lead pipes that contribute to lead in the drinking water of Ontario’s schools is not included in that figure.

Get the lead out! tap w/water coming out“Ideally, nobody would be drinking out of lead pipes,” said Krista Wylie, the co-founder of the advocacy group Fix Our Schools. But neither school boards nor principals have access to the funding needed to undertake a “huge infrastructure overhaul,” she said.

 

Schools Are Community

Recently our local public elementary school reached it’s 100th anniversary. Generations of alumni, neighbours, students & parents were all thrilled to attend an event that celebrated the school’s history in our neighbourhood.
Group of kids in "LEAP" shirtsSchools are important hubs in our communities, providing green play space, offering gyms for local events and bringing staff, parents, grandparents & caregivers together. Schools are also advised by parent councils who reflect the needs of the community.
Teachers in our schools welcome many new immigrants into their community. Many of these students came from war-torn countries where they missed school, did not have access to adequate health care and worried about their future. Welcoming them into our community means helping them to get a better standard of living and teaching them to read and write well as fast as possible.
The TDSB, for example, uses LEAP (Literacy Enrichment Academic Program) to teach new immigrants literacy, math and study skills. LEAP is designed to teach older students how to read and the teachers who use it change lives.
Read heartwarming stories about Syrian teens who are becoming essential members of their communities because of their school. Schools are community.

Mitten and Hat Time

It’s the time of year when parents bemoan the constant loss of hats, mitts, boots and indoor shoes. Or worse still, the loss of one shoe! This is your reminder to take 10 minutes this weekend and label everything that isn’t nailed down!
laundry basket full of sneakers
Tips on labelling equipment:
Light coloured clothes/ tags: Use Fine Permanent Black Marker (Sharpie, Pentel)
Dark clothes/tags: Use White or Silver Marker (Pilot, Sharpie)
Iron-On Labels (Canadian companies include Stuck On You, Mabel’s Labels and Sticker Kid)
Shoes/Boots Label the inside tongue of shoe (Use Permanent Marker or Custom Shoe Label)
And don’t forget to encourage your child to visit the school lost and found frequently!

What we’re hearing from custodians from across the province …

We heard the following from a head custodian who works with the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board, which serves rural and urban communities surrounding Peterborough Ontario.

The lack of funding for maintenance and infrastructure repair creates cascading problems. When we have to close down part of an aging building because we don’t have the funds to maintain or repair it, students get squeezed, and the learning environment suffers. When maintenance and infrastructure budgets are stripped of funds to pay for other vital but underfunded programs – like mandated small class sizes or full-day kindergarten – kids suffer. We know very well that the physical infrastructure of schools contributes to the learning environment of the child.”

This statement underscores the need for a provincial education funding approach that takes into account differences in geography, demographics and the age of school buildings when it comes not only to school renewal funding but also to operational maintenance funding. It also underscores the need for a provincial standard for building maintenance.

The $15.9 billion of disrepair that has accumulated in Ontario’s schools is due to the chronic and gross provincial underfunding for two decades…

  • Underfunding of school renewal
  • Underfunding of operational maintenance
  • Underfunding of new schools

This situation is not sustainable. We need to truly fix our schools and also to truly fix the provincial education funding approach in Ontario.