How did Ontario’s schools get to be in such bad shape?

The scores of parents, grandparents, teachers and school staff who contact Fix Our Schools with questions are really all asking the same two questions:

  • How did the schools get to be in such bad shape?
  • When are we going to Fix Our Schools?

Economist Hugh_MacKenzie’s latest report, “Ontario’s deteriorating schools: The fix is not in”  answers the first question. Since the Province took over funding of schools 20 years ago, the physical condition of Ontario’s schools has been a consistent casualty.*

Fix Our Schools started with a room of parents in the local public school library wondering why our children’s school didn’t have proper heat, safe stairs, washroom stall doors, or space for them to sit in the cafeteria to eat lunch (many of them ate on the floor).

Some parents raised concerns about asbestos and peeling paint, which likely contained lead. We discussed how our school actually had an evacuation protocol in the winters so that when the boiler failed we’d know where to pick up our children. We also noted that the newer addition to the school was literally sinking.

Parents shared that some students were stressed; others didn’t use the washroom for the 6 hours they were in school, and many didn’t eat their lunches. The condition of the school was noticeably poor and seemed to be impacting our children’s learning. Something was wrong and we thought we could help. Thus, the Fix Our Schools campaign was founded. 

We soon found that we are adrift in a sea of schools that are in appalling shape. The majority of Ontario schools simply cannot be considered buildings that provide optimum learning conditions. Who let it get this far?

Here are some answers:

  • You might be surprised to hear that your property taxes don’t go to your chosen school board anymore. The present provincial funding process for schools (whereby the provincial government takes those taxes and doles them out as they see fit) is one of the reasons the majority of our schools have huge repair backlogs. 
  • This new funding process was meant to be beta-tested and re-examined regularly, but has continued without review for over 4 changes of provincial governments. Few of us are willing to read through the details of school funding so most of us assumed that our provincial government would provide sufficient funding to school boards to be able to regularly maintain and fix schools.  
  • You might have believed various Ministers of Education when they claimed that the money the province provided had just been squandered by the school boards. But the real story is that for many years the province was only providing ONE TENTH of the funding amount needed to repair schools to a good standard. No amount of finger pointing can disguise that. Fix Our Schools has demanded transparency and good governance from the school boards. You can read about the work that the TDSB, for example, has done to show this.
  • Since the Province took over responsibility for education funding in 1998, we see a disturbing and ongoing trend of increasing disrepair in Ontario schools. In 2003, $5.6 billion of disrepair was estimated to exist in Ontario’s schools. Today, the amount of disrepair has tripled to an eye-popping $15.9 Billion. That is a scary number. And an even scarier reality for the 2-million Ontario students who spend their days in these buildings.
  • Funding from the Province has also radically changed from year to year. Without stable funding your school board simply cannot plan. We expect our tax dollars to be spent wisely with thoughtfulness and planning. Instead, boards are forced to be reactive, not proactive in spending.
  • The most important reason that $15.9 billion of disrepair has been allowed to accumulate in Ontario schools is that the entity with the power over the money (remember the Province holds all the power over education funding in Ontario) is NOT the entity with the responsibility to education (local School Boards). That disconnect between power/money and responsibility is key to this issue. 
  • And let’s not forget that Ontario also has schools funded by the federal government in appalling shape on First Nations reserves in the north.

It is time to tell our governments that we value education and we are outraged that they do not. Join us on Facebook and Twitter and let your voice be heard.