How do cities and school boards secure sufficient funding for infrastructure?

In the February 16, 2017 Toronto Sun article entitled, “Mayor Tory urges province, feds to step up to the plate”, John Tory states that, “Toronto is locked in a pair of “prehistoric handcuffs” and senior governments have the keys.”

Tory made these comments outside of a Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) building in Etobicoke as he urged the provincial and federal governments to help address the $2.6-billion repair backlog that has been allowed to accumulate in the city’s social housing buildings. Tory goes on to say, “Another year of tweaking and fiddling on the budget front without real help from them just won’t cut it in terms of our responsibility that we have to the people of this city.”

In the January 27, 2017 CBC News entitled, “Mayor Tory decries ‘short-sighted’ road-toll rejection by province”, Tory says that, “he’s tired of Queen’s Park treating him like a “little boy in short pants,” when he’s trying to to secure money to pay for billions of dollars worth of infrastructure projects.”

And in a February 21, 2017 editorial in the Toronto Star, entitled, “The Province must deliver long-term funding support to Toronto”, Mayor Tory continued this general theme.

Mayor Tory is understandably frustrated by the fact that he feels a great responsibility to meet the needs of the people of Toronto and yet is unable to accomplish this because the provincial government holds more power and access to funding.

School board trustees throughout Ontario are likely very familiar with Mayor Tory’s “prehistoric handcuffs”. For years, they’ve undertaken to do what is best for the students, families and communities they serve – but must rely on the province for almost all funding. Given that the Province routinely blames school boards for not meeting the needs of students, Ontario school boards are also familiar with the frustration of trying to secure adequate funding when they can’t control the sources of those funds. Ontario’s 72 school boards must be able to access stable and adequate funding to repair and build new schools so that the real people in short pants, our children, can go to school in safe, well-maintained schools.

Community hubs: a real possibility or a pipe dream?

Community hubs demand co-operation and collaboration between multiple levels of government: the provincial government, municipalities, and school boards.

Only two out of these three levels of government have the power to access money via taxes and user fees – the provincial government and municipalities. And let’s be honest, the Province has the lion’s share of the power and ability to access money!  Municipalities come in second place, when it comes to power and ability to access money… and school boards fall a distant third.

The fact is that school boards have very little power and almost no access to money beyond what is provided by the provincial funding formula for education. In some special instances, money comes to school boards from municipalities based on special agreements.

Case in point… the City of Toronto and the Toronto District School Board have an agreement where the city funds the operation of certain school pools and, in return, it is given exclusive use of these pools in the evenings, on weekends and during summer break. The city’s Parks and Recreation department can use this time to provide swimming lessons and open swim times for the local community. This agreement between a school board and a municipality has been a great example of multiple levels of government working together to create community hubs.

However, as Robin Pilkey, Chair of the TDSB, outlines in a February 15, 2017 Toronto Star editorial entitled,“City must commit to help fund school pools: Pilkey”, the City has cut funding to eleven pools since 2007. The TDSB has kept these pools open since it believed these community pools were important to students and families. However, the TDSB has not received funding from either City or Province to fund these pools. Therefore, money to keep these pools open has been allocated at the expense of fixing schools. These are tough decisions to have been made by the School Board.

“Caught between a rock and hard place” seems an apt description. Close these community pools and see community outrage; or keep these community pools open at the expense of making much-needed repairs in other schools.

In recent days, Toronto Mayor John Tory has said the City of Toronto will cut funding to an additional three pools in order to save money. He announced this without any discussion or meeting with the TDSB, and then has claimed the TDSB will be able to keep these pools open, even without city funding.

At the beginning of this post, we talked about each level of government’s access to power and money. Let’s now examine the issue of accountability. Ironically, when it comes to education, school boards end up with the lion’s share of accountability, even though their power and access to money is very limited. In contrast, municipalities and the provincial government are quick to shirk responsibility for anything to do with education and publicly funded schools, consistently pointing back to school boards bearing the responsibility.

We’re hoping this dynamic seems as odd to you as it does to us. Shouldn’t power and accountability reside in the same place? Community hubs will only be a pipe dream if those levels of government with the most power and access to money take no responsibility for how their decisions impact Ontario citizens and communities.


Rozanski Report: Issues with the funding formula for school repairs – and recommendations!

In the 2002 Rozanski Report, found the following issues with the provincial funding formula for school repair and renewal; and made the accompanying recommendations.

Issue 1: As of 2002, yearly funding to school boards for school renewal (repairs and maintenance) was $266-million for school assets valued at $28-billion. This was less than 1% of the value of the facility replacement value of schools. Established guidelines recommended that governments provide annually a minimum of 1.5% to 4% of the current facility replacement value of a building for renewal needs.

Rozanski Recommendations: 

  • Update the benchmark costs within the education funding formula and increase annual funding for school renewal to meet industry guidelines.

Where this issue is at today:

in 2015, Ontario’s Auditor-General issued a report stating that $1.4-billion per year ought to be allocated to school boards for school repairs and maintenance, a figure that represented 2.5% of the value of school assets in Ontario. Between 2011-2015, provincial funding for school repairs was $5.8-billion less than it ought to have been, according to these Ontario Auditor-General numbers, which obviously contributed to the ballooning deferred maintenance backlog.

In June 2016, the Liberal provincial government did announce $1.1-billion of new money over two years for school repairs (after significant pressure from Fix Our Schools and both the NDP and PC parties). This new money brought annual funding for school repairs in both 2015/16 and 2016/17 to the $1.4-billion recommended. Therefore, annual funding for school repairs is finally at a level that it always OUGHT to have been at!


Our provincial government must continue annual funding at the level of 2.5% of the value of Ontario’s school assets.

Issue 2: As of 2002, $5.6-billion of deferred maintenance had been allowed to accumulate in Ontario’s publicly funded schools

Rozanski Recommendations: 

  • School boards should secure capital financing needed to quickly address this deferred maintenance via debentures
  • Province ought to support school boards with $200-million of additional funding for interest and principal payments on these debentures

Where this issue is at today:

The provincial government never pursued the solution of debt financing to a degree that impacted the deferred maintenance backlog in Ontario’s schools. As of 2017, the deferred maintenance backlog in our schools has ballooned to $15-billion.


Our provincial government must acknowledge that annual budgets are never going to solve the $15-billion problem of disrepair in Ontario’s schools. The $15-billion deferred maintenance backlog accrued over 20 years and therefore, debt financing is an appropriate funding solution for a problem of this magnitude, and must be pursued if we are to fix our schools.


Ontario communities each have unique educational issues

While Fix Our Schools focuses on the importance of quickly addressing the $15-billion of disrepair that has accumulated in Ontario’s publicly funded schools, many people in rural Ontario are more concerned about actually keeping a school in their community. As one citizen who lives in Flesherton wrote to us, “you can’t fix a school you don’t have!”

True point.

In rural and northern Ontario, school closures are being encouraged by our provincial government in the name of “efficient use of resources” – even if that means students spend 2 hours each day on a bus. The Ontario Alliance Against School Closures (OAASC) is backed by close to 1-million Ontario citizens and is calling on the Ministry of Education to enact a moratorium on school closures until such a time that funding can be aligned fairly and the Pupil Accommodation Review Guideline is rewritten with a democratic respect for communities, local economies and local governments. The OAASC spoke to the devastating cost of school closures on communities at the Minister of Finance’s pre-budget consultations in London on Friday, January 20th.

Susan MacKenzie, an OAASC co-founder said, “with an estimated 600 school closures, it is the rural and northern communities that will be hit the hardest.” MacKenzie contends that the Student Transportation Grant could balloon to $1 billion in the near term to cover the increased costs of transporting students longer distances to schools. She says, “if the Ministry of Education can find this kind of money for transportation, they can find savings to keep rural schools open.”

In Suburban areas of high growth, citizens have other concerns. In many of these areas, classrooms are bursting at the seams.

In suburban Ontario, student populations are growing so quickly that classrooms are routinely overcrowded. In the Globe and Mail article from December 18, 2016 entitled, “In Milton, Ont., crowded classrooms put Canada’s fastest-growing town to the test”,  the reality of a growing school population is explored.

In order to efficiently use the assets we call schools, school boards alter school boundaries to address crowding issues at schools, or if a new school is built. While on paper, this seems like a good idea and certainly optimizes efficiency of how school buildings are used, the reality is that children can be forced to move schools frequently. As one parent says, “You don’t feel connected or attached to a school. You kind of feel like you’re being thrown around,” she says. “Right now, I’m pretty confident that we’re so close to the school, we shouldn’t get switched. But with this whole neighbourhood being built, I mean really, anything can happen.”

Another common solution is portables, which do not provide an ideal learning environment. Students can feel isolated from the main school building and the rest of the school community. The conditions of portables are not routinely assessed, so poor conditions can go unaddressed. Yet, new schools in suburban Ontario routinely open their doors, already requiring a multitude of portables on their school site to accommodate the number of students attending the school on day one!

So while Fix Our Schools continues to focus on ensuring that all Ontario students attend safe, well-maintained schools that provide environments conducive to learning, we are also very sensitive to these additional challenges faced in both rural and suburban areas of our province and support work to address these issues as well. Interestingly, the root cause of all of these issues is the provincial education funding formula. Quite simply put, this funding formula has not provided what is needed for any Ontario community over the past 20-years and must be overhauled.

2017/18 Provincial Budget must contain $1.4-billion for school repairs

We’ve been looking back on history in order to learn and move ahead in funding education in Ontario. We’ve gone back as far as 2002 to examine the Rozanski report on the education funding formula. In this post, we’ll only go back to 2015…

In December 2015, Ontario’s Auditor-General looked at school conditions in this province and began to examine how $15-billion of disrepair had accumulated in Ontario’s publicly funded schools. She used an industry acknowledged standard of allocating 2.5% of the value of your capital assets each year to routine maintenance to confirm that in order to keep Ontario’s schools in a state of good repair (which they clearly are not, given the $15-billion repair backlog in schools across the province), the provincial government must provide $1.4-billion per year to school boards to use on school repairs. 

In June, 2016, the Liberal provincial government acknowledged that funding for school repairs had been inadequate for too long. Minister of Education Mitzie Hunter announced a new $1.1-billion investment over two years for school repairs. When this $1.1-billion was added to the money previously allocated to school repairs, the total investment in each of 2015/16 and 2016/17 added up to the $1.4-billion per year for school repairs recommended by the Auditor-General.

Kathleen Wynne’s government is now in the process of collecting input to forming the 2017/18 provincial budget. Surely, they will not go backwards and reduce annual funding for school repairs to be less than the $1.4-billion that industry standards recommend?  Surely, we can count on our provincial government to provide an adequate yearly revenue source to school boards that they might endeavour to keep schools in good condition for the 2-million Ontario children who spend their days in these buildings?  As per the presentation we made as part of the Pre-Budget ConsultationFix Our Schools will be looking to Kathleen Wynne to allocate a minimum of $1.4-billion in 2017/18 to Ontario school boards for school repairs. 

Rozanski Report: Guiding principles for education funding

The following excerpts from the 2002 Rozanski Report are still incredibly relevant today!

“I believe that the process for funding public education in Ontario should be guided by the following interrelated and interdependent principles:

  • Adequacy
  • Affordability
  • Equity
  • Stability
  • Flexibility
  • Accountability

Adequacy. The goals of high program quality, high levels of student achievement, and continuous improvement in both will not be met, in my opinion, without a concomitantly high level of public investment. While financial support is not the only kind of support needed, it is important that it be adequate to meet the objectives school boards, teachers, and students are being asked to achieve.

Affordability. I tend to agree with those who say we cannot afford not to provide adequate funding to meet our goals for public education. Our children deserve no less; our economic future requires no less. But education is only one public priority, and taxpayers’ pockets are not bottomless. The Province and the education community must engage in a continuous dialogue and a continuous process of assessing need, determining the appropriate level of funding to meet that need, then assessing results, including levels of student achievement, and reassessing need and the appropriate level of funding.

Equity. Equity means fairness. All Ontario students deserve equitable access to education and to the financial resources necessary for a high-quality education. Equity is not equality. Equality is not always equitable. One size does not fit all.

Stability. To plan for continuous improvement, boards and schools need to be able to count on a stable and predictable education funding system. When boards and schools are issued a new or an expanded mandate, they need assurances that they will also be given time to build the capacity to implement the change and resources that are adequate to meet the new demands.

Flexibility. Ontario is a vast and diverse province, and the needs of students in one board’s jurisdiction are not necessarily the needs of those in another board. The funding system should be both flexible and adaptable to allow boards and their schools a certain amount of discretion in assessing their local needs and spending part of their funding allocation to address those local needs.

Accountability. In the context of Ontario’s publicly funded education system, reciprocal accountability means that every demand by the public and the Province for improved performance involves a responsibility to provide appropriate resources to meet the demand, and that every investment accepted requires school boards, principals, teachers, and other staff to demonstrate accountability for using those resources efficiently and effectively for the purpose intended.”

Our input to the coming provincial budget

On December 8, 2016, Fix Our Schools had the opportunity to make this presentation to the Provincial Standing Committee of Finance and Economic Affairs in a pre-budget consultation meeting.

In large part, we referenced the 2002 Rozanski Report, commissioned by the PC Education Minister at that time, Elizabeth Witmer.

We study history to learn from our predecessors. In this spirit, the working group of the Fix Our Schools campaign reviewed the 2002 Rozanski Report, which analyzed the provincial funding model behind Ontario’s education system. We paid particular attention to the elements of the Rozanski Report that pertained to the funding for school maintenance and repairs.

After our review, we would encourage all provincial parties to review this report. The recommendations outlined by Rozanski would have served us well if we had instituted them 15 years ago. Indeed, our belief is if his recommendations had been followed, there may now be only a negligible amount of disrepair in Ontario’s schools.

However, Rozanski’s recommendations have withstood the test of time and, while 15 years later than would be ideal, his recommendations would still serve us well. It is time for our provincial government to acknowledge that debt financing is needed to deal with a $15-billion repair backlog that accrued in Ontario’s schools over the past 20 years. It is time to for our provincial government to admit that annual budget allocations alone will not address an issue of this magnitude.

“Better late than never” seems to be an appropriate adage to reference here!


We’ve made a difference together in 2016!

As 2016 draws to a close, the Fix Our Schools campaign is happy to reflect on the many positive things we’ve accomplished together this past year:

In June, the provincial government increased annual funding for school repairs by $1.1-billion over two years to $1.3-billion in 2015/16 and $1.4-billion in 2016/17.

In August, the TDSB released detailed data on the condition of its schools, and the Ministry of Education followed suit almost immediately, providing a new level of transparency into Ontario school conditions.

In August and September, school conditions in Ontario received significant attention in the media, with Fix Our Schools frequently cited.

Thank you for your involvement in the Fix Our Schools campaign. As a collective, we have far more power than as individuals. Please continue to engage with Fix Our Schools. Together, we have made a difference and we will continue to do so.

Join Us in Making a Difference

Fix Our Schools is a parent-led, non-partisan, grassroots campaign creating a large network of citizens across Ontario who all expect: 

  • Every Ontario public school student to attend a safe, well-maintained school that provides an environment conducive to learning
  • The $15-billion of disrepair across all 72 Ontario school boards to be addressed
  • Public education to be a priority within every party’s platform in the 2018 provincial election
  • Public schools to be funded as critical public infrastructure – on par with transit .

Help us ensure that Ontario students and education workers spend their days in buildings that are conducive to learning and working.

You can make a difference if you join thousands of citizens from across Ontario in the Fix Our Schools campaign. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

We have made a difference, and we will continue to do so.

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!