By Matias de Dovitiis
I hear it all the time. We need more children’s programming in Downsview. We need to create more opportunities for our youth. And yet, the designated funding that should be helping to meet these needs continues to be diverted to communities that are better off.
It is sad, but it is true. The province is underfunding all schools, but it is schools like ours that suffer the most. The government knows they do not provide enough money to run the system, but it refuses to take responsibility. It is a card trick shuffle and it is the neediest youth that are losing the game.
The Ontario government provides special funding to schools that have higher numbers of new arrivals to Canada and higher numbers of students that need special teaching assistance. They have provided the school boards with two funding streams for this purpose: the English as a Second Language (ESL) Allocation Grant and the Learning Opportunity Grant (LOG).
In principle, these grants are over and above the regular funding that schools receive to pay their normal operating costs. They are supposed to flow to needier schools to help pay for extra teachers and other teaching aids, so that students who require extra support have an equal chance to succeed. However, the Toronto District School Board is so short of funds that they use 1/4 of the ESL money and 2/3 of the LOG funding to pay other bills.
This has a particularly negative impact on schools in the north of the city, because this is where you have higher rates of poverty for young families and higher numbers of new Canadians. Rather than helping to level the playing field for students in Downsview, these designated funds are being used to pay the hydro bill in Forest Hill.
There is something seriously wrong with this entire dynamic. The provincial government knows that that the TDSB is shortchanging needy schools, but is hiding from responsibility by claiming that it is not their decision to make. Yet they set up the rules. It is a simple accounting trick to hide from the problem they started. They created the ESL and LOG funding, but also created the funding deficit that drives the reallocation of this special funding to regular operating costs.
The provincial government determines the pay rate for teachers, but they fail to deliver the necessary budget. Over the last two years, this has brought a loss of teachers and a decrease in the level of education in our schools. In 2012, 430 Education Assistants and 200 high school teachers were fired, undermining efforts to improve math scores across the TDSB.
Like some backwards Robin Hood, Ontario is taking from the poorest students to give to the rich. It is not small change either. Every year, 80 million dollars is taken from needy schools and spread around to fill budget gaps. This is money that should be used where it is needed most, to create a more equitable system that gives all students an equal chance to succeed.