Premier Wynne: Please fix our schools and the inherently broken funding formula

When will Premier Wynne and Education Minister Hunter acknowledge that their one-size-fits-all education funding formula is not yielding the results Ontario citizens want to see in education?

The Ontario Alliance Against School Closures (OAASC) represents almost 900,000 voters across the province and wants education funding to accommodate the unique realities of communities in rural and Northern Ontario. They led a rally at Queen’s Park on November 21 to let Premier Wynne know that local public schools matter to their communities and that they expect a provincial government to provide a public education system that works for rural and northern communities in Ontario. 

Fix Our School represents thousands of voters across the province and wants education funding to address the $15-billion of disrepair that has been allowed to accumulate in all of Ontario’s 72 publicly funded schools over the past 20 years. Members of Fix Our Schools joined OAASC at the rally on November 21, recognizing that it is hard for rural communities to care about fixing their local school – if they don’t have a local school to fix! 

Our provincial government has the power over all education funding and the majority of policies that govern public education in this province. Yet, our provincial government routinely pushes all responsibility for the delivery of public education down to local school boards, which have very little power to effect change.

Premier Wynne and Minister Hunter: Please take the responsibility that must come with the power you have over public education and fix our schools – and the inherently broken formula which funds them!

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Parents protest rural school closures

Local schools are important to Ontario families. This is evident when any local school is at risk of being closed, a situation that is becoming more frequent as our provincial government puts pressure on local school boards to strive for the same type of “efficient use of assets” as for-profit corporations generally pursue.

Parents from across the province are heading to Queen’s Park today to let Premier Wynne and Education Minister Hunter know that local schools are important to communities and necessary to provide the best education possible for Ontario students. Children attending publicly funded schools in this province are more than mere chess pieces on a board that can be conveniently moved around (via 4-hour bus rides) to “nearby” schools in the name of operational efficiency.

In the November 20, 2016 Toronto Star article entitled, “Ontario parents protest a slew of rural school closures, claim funding model is faulty”, Annie Kidder, the executive director of People for Education, says that “while some schools (in the province) do need to be closed, there are always consequences. And those consequences go beyond individual kids.” Kidder goes on to say that, “the province and the school boards keep passing the buck back and forth about whose fault it is.”

This lack of accountability is concerning and is not yielding the outcomes we want to see in public education. The Province has held power over all educational funding and the vast majority of rules governing education for over two decades now. Ontario school boards have the responsibility to actually operate our publicly funded schools and administer the funding they receive from the province for their schools. Therefore, power and accountability/responsibility do not reside at the same level of government, making it easy to pass the buck.

In the instance of school repairs, we have gathered irrefutable evidence that from 2011-2016, the provincial government underfunded local school boards by $5.8-billion for school repairs. However, the Province tends to blame local school boards for problems. Clearly, this dynamic is not delivering what is best for students and communities and must change so that power and accountability/responsibility reside at the same level of government.

 

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Building new schools will help chip away at the $15-billion repair backlog in Ontario schools

The article entitled, “15 new schools slated to be built across the GTA: Ontario announces details of new schools slated for GTA, among a total of 28 set to be built across the province” by Andrea Gordon appeared in the November 1, 2016 edition of the Toronto Star.

School boards, communities, parents and students alike were excited to hear details about which schools were going to be built – or re-built. However, the $470-million being spent on building these new schools does not represent new money towards improving school infrastructure in this province. As per the 2016 provincial budget:

“Over 10 years, the Province plans to provide more than $11 billion in capital grants to school boards to help build new schools in areas of high growth, reduce surplus space through school consolidations, and improve the condition of existing facilities.”

Therefore, the $470-million announced for new school buildings, is really simply a report back to taxpayers on how money that has already been committed is actually going to be spent, as Fix Our Schools is quoted as saying in this Toronto Star article.

However, Fix Our Schools recognizes that building new schools is an important step towards decreasing the $15-billion repair backlog in Ontario’s schools. This massive repair backlog was allowed to accumulate in Ontario schools over the past 20 years, when provincial funding for school repairs was grossly inadequate, compared to the $1.4-billion per year that Ontario’s Auditor-General says ought to be allocated for school repairs in order to keep schools in good condition.

When Premier Wynne’s government announced additional funding for school repairs in June 2016, they finally brought annual funding for school repairs up to the $1.4-billion that ought to have always been allocated annually to keeping our children’s schools in good condition. However, this new level of funding does not allow school boards to deal effectively with the huge repair backlogs that have accumulated over the past 20 years. Therefore, new schools represent a tangible way to chip away at the massive repair backlog – since when a new school is built – the millions of dollars of disrepair that existed in the old school get written off the books!

Therefore, investment in school repairs and investment in building new schools are both important.

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Conditions of school portables ought to be assessed

black-mold-not-goldThe provincial government released Facility Condition Index (FCI) data for all Ontario schools this August, which provides details of outstanding repairs on all school buildings in the province. Absent from this data is any type of assessment on school portables. Given the number of Ontario’s students and teachers who spend their days in portables, the condition of these buildings ought to be assessed and documented too! 

grci-portable-8_06

We received photos of a portable in a horrible state of disrepair, which highlights why assessing the condition of all learning spaces in Ontario is important. Ceiling tiles had caved in due to a leaking roof, the ceiling structure was filled with black mould and rodent feces. According to the person who sent us these photos, “the pictures don’t do the conditions in that portable justice. It was even worse than this. The mouldy smell was unreal.”

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Premier Wynne’s Mandate Letter to Education Minister Hunter

mitzie-hunterIn September, 2016 – to mark the halfway point in her government’s mandate, Premier Wynne issued mandate letters to all of her ministers. Wynne’s mandate letter to Education Minister Mitzie Hunter, who was appointed in June 2016, can be read here.

Premier Wynne highlights the $1.1-billion of new money that her government allocated to school repairs over two years as a key accomplishment within the education portfolio. This new funding brings annual funding for school repairs to the recommended $1.4-billion per year but does not address the $15-billion of disrepair that has been allowed to accumulate in Ontario’s schools over the past 20 years, when annual funding to school boards for school repairs was a fraction of what it should have been.

Therefore, we were disappointed to see that Premier Wynne did not mention school conditions or the $15-billion repair backlog when laying out Minister Hunter’s mandate for the next two years. Given we know school conditions impact student achievement, health and well-being – there is no excuse for this oversight.

Premier Wynne and Minister Hunter: The condition of our publicly funded schools must be an ongoing priority for your government.

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Response from Education Minister Hunter

On September 19, 2016, Fix Our Schools sent this letter to Premier Wynne and Education Minister asking the their government please:

  • Explore and implement funding solutions such as issuing provincial bonds to immediately address the $15-billion repair backlog in schools.
  • Work with school boards to develop measurable goals for what school conditions in Ontario ought to be; and plans/timelines for how those goals will be achieved.
  • Release disrepair data at regular intervals to ensure that the $15-billion repair backlog is decreasing; and not continuing to increase.
  • Include school conditions as a key part of your party’s provincial campaign platform.

On October 24, 2016, Fix Our Schools received this reponse_letter from Education Minister Hunter. Although no direct response was received to three out of four of our requests, Minister Hunter did commit to ongoing transparency about the conditions of schools in Ontario, committing to continuing to release the condition and renewal needs of schools in this province. We are optimistic this will be at least yearly and will follow up with Minister Hunter to clarify her commitment.

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Wynne’s report on spending is different than announcing new spending

Today, Premier Wynne and Education Minister Hunter announced that 28 new schools are being built in the province; and another 23 schools are being renovated. While this is great news, it is simply a report back to taxpayers on how money is being spent and is not to be confused with an announcement of new funding. The money being used to fund these new schools and renovations was already allocated and has already been announced many times – as part of Wynne’s government’s commitment to school infrastructure over 10 years.

 

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Send a letter asking what the plan is to improve school conditions for Ontario’s children

On September 19, 2016, Fix Our Schools sent this letter to Premier Wynne and Education Minister asking the their government please:

  • Explore and implement funding solutions such as issuing provincial bonds to immediately address the $15-billion repair backlog in schools.
  • Work with school boards to develop measurable goals for what school conditions in Ontario ought to be; and plans/timelines for how those goals will be achieved.
  • Release disrepair data at regular intervals to ensure that the $15-billion repair backlog is decreasing; and not continuing to increase.
  • Include school conditions as a key part of your party’s provincial campaign platform.

We requested a response to these requests by October 3, 2016.

As of Monday, October 10 – no response has been received.

If school conditions are important to you and you share our concerns, we encourage you to please send this letter to Premier Wynne & Minister Hunter also! Please ensure you include your MPP; and include your name and address at the bottom of the letter.

Here is the letter below, should you wish to copy and paste instead:

To: Premier Wynne, Education Minister Hunter, Minister of Infrastructure Chiarelli & Deputy Minister Zegarac,

I am engaged with the Fix Our Schools campaign, which represents thousands of Ontario parents. Today, I ask your government to improve school conditions for all students in this province by immediately addressing the $15-billion of disrepair that has accumulated in our children’s schools.

While I commend the government’s increase in annual funding for school repairs to an industry-accepted standard, this new level of $1.4-billion/year for school repairs does little to address the $15-billion repair backlog that was allowed to accumulate in Ontario’s publicly funded schools over the past 20 years. In September of this year, an unacceptable number of Ontario’s students headed back to aging schools with hot classrooms, leaky ceilings, and myriad other issues.

Therefore, I call upon your government to improve school conditions for all Ontario students and find funding solutions to immediately address the $15-billion of disrepair in our children’s schools. I ask that your government please:

  • Explore and implement funding solutions such as issuing provincial bonds to immediately address the $15-billion repair backlog in schools.
  • Work with school boards to develop measurable goals for what school conditions in Ontario ought to be; and plans/timelines for how those goals will be achieved.
  • Release disrepair data at regular intervals to ensure that the $15-billion repair backlog is decreasing; and not continuing to increase.
  • Include school conditions as a key part of your party’s provincial campaign platform.

Kind regards,

YOUR NAME

YOUR ADDRESS

 

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School conditions in the news again

On September 13, 2016, the Toronto Star published, “Sweltering schools in September raise concerns: Students at a Bloor West high school want to see better measures to keep their classrooms cool“. This article featured students at Ursula Franklin Academy, a high school in the west end of Toronto, who were raising classroom conditions – heat specifically – as having negative impacts on their ability to learn.

On September 22, 2016, the Torontoist covered the issue of school conditions in an article entitled, “The TDSB’s Repair Backlog is the Result of Years of Underfunding: Its 588 schools require $3.4 billion in repairs”. Reporter Rhiannon Russell explores how chronic and gross underfunding of school repairs in this province over the past 20 years has led to the current state of disrepair in so many publicly funded schools.

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