On November 14, 2017, we joined forces with the Campaign for Public Education for a media conference at Queen’s Park where economist Hugh Mackenzie revealed his latest report on the deterioration of Ontario’s schools.
Mackenzie’s report points out that since 2002, the repair backlog in Ontario’s publicly funded schools has increased from $5.6 billion to $15.9 billion – tripling in 15 years. Current provincial funding for school renewal totals $1.4 billion per year (comprised of $1 billion in special School Condition Improvement (SCI) funding + $357 million in regular School Renewal Allocation (SRA) funding). Mackenzie’s report confirms that despite the significant increase in annual provincial funding for school renewal since 2015, $1.4 billion/year is simply not enough to make up for the 20 years when provincial funding was a mere fraction of what it ought to have been. In fact, the report highlights that with current increased provincial funding levels for school renewal, the repair backlog will continue to increase.
What do we need to do to truly fix our schools?
- A commonly understood and measurable standard of good repair must be developed and implemented for Ontario schools, (taking into consideration not only FCI data but also things such as water quality, air quality and temperature of classrooms. These standards should be applied not only to permanent school buildings but also to portables, which often end up being on a school site for over a decade).
- An approach to school closures that is not focused on utilization rates but, instead, determines the importance of a school to its surrounding community and considers the implications for student access to programs and commute times. If a school is open, then its capital costs and operational maintenance costs must be fully funded by the provincial government, regardless of the utilization of that school.
- An updated provincial regulation that guides the collection and use of Education Development Charges such that developers contribute to the local school infrastructure from which they ultimately profit.
- The following additional renewal and capital funding is needed each year to truly fix Ontario’s schools and fix the provincial approach to funding schools in this province:
- Keep special School Condition Improvement (SCI) funding at $1 billion per year until the repair backlog is gone, in conjunction with the following funding steps:
- Increase annual School Renewal Allocation (SRA) funding from the current $357 million per year to $1.7 billion per year, and maintain that funding at 3% of the replacement value of Ontario’s schools to conform to generally accepted level of renewal funding required to keep schools in a state of good repair.
- Create a new and separate capital stream of funding to replace the 346 school buildings across the province determined to be too expensive to repair as of the most recent provincial review cycle; estimated $3.9 billion one-time capital injection amortized over 40 years would result in a new budgetary expense of $100 million per year.
- Increase the current operational maintenance budget by $165 million per year (an 8.7% increase from current levels, based on industry averages) and ensure that the formula used to determine this annual figure explicitly recognizes the underlying drivers of differences in operating costs for schools in the province including: labour costs in the community, heating costs and climate, age & design of school buildings.
So to recap, in order to truly fix Ontario’s schools, we need a standard of good repair for our schools; a commitment to fully funding the capital and operational maintenance costs of all open schools; an updated provincial regulation that guides the collection and use of EDCs; and we need the Province to commit to maintaining existing special SCI funding at $1-billion/year until the repair backlog is eliminated as well as committing to the following new annual funding:
+ an additional $1.3 billion/year in renewal funding
+ an additional $100 million/year to cover amortized cost of rebuilding 346 schools
+ an additional $165 million/year for operational maintenance in schools=
= AN ADDITIONAL $1.6 BILLION OF ANNUAL FUNDING until the $15.9 repair backlog is eliminated and the $1 billion of SCI funding can be redirected
We know this is a lot of new money to be asking for in the provincial budget. We also know that:
- Schools are a critical element of our public infrastructure
- 2 million Ontario children spend their days in school buildings and need safe, healthy, well maintained places to learn.
- Teachers, education workers, adult learners, and pre-schoolers who attend childcare facilities in local public schools also need safe, healthy, well-maintained environments in which to work and learn.
- Repairs in Ontario’s schools are only going to get more expensive if we do not fully address the $15.9 billion repair backlog as soon as possible. The limiting factor should be, “how quick can we get people to DO the work … NOT the amount of money available to fix schools”
So if we collectively agree that we value our children and we value their education then we will start to do what it takes to truly fix Ontario’s schools and fix the broken provincial funding approach to education that has allowed $15.9 billion of disrepair to accumulate in Ontario’s schools.