Cuts Hurt Toronto’s Poorest Children
It is time for the board to start allocating all of the Learning Opportunities Grants to its intended use
By Bob Spencer and David ClandfielddWe are two former trustees of the old Toronto Board of Education. Each of us chaired the Inner City Committee, which made recommendations to improve the education of poor children living in vulnerable communities. So we are dismayed and outraged to see the Toronto District School Board voting to cut teachers allocated to the education of these students in its 2013-14 School-Based Staffing plan on Wednesday March 6, 2013. (http://www.tdsb.on.ca/_site/ViewItem.asp?siteid=177&menuid=41543&pageid=34842).
Two stories have gone out to the media: one is that the cuts are the fault of declining enrolment and the other message is that deep down the cuts are the fault of the Provincial Government alone. These stories are true in a general sense, but as an explanation of cuts to teachers of poor children, they are deeply misleading.
Why do we say this? The Province annually allocates what it calls a Learning Opportunities Grant to school boards (http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/funding/1213/technical12_13.pdf). Inside this grant is a Demographic Allocation intended to support “boards in offering a wide range of programs to improve the educational achievement” of students whose socio-economic background is associated with “a higher risk of academic difficulties.” This is the Ministry’s eduspeak for teaching poor children. So what’s wrong with that? Nothing. It’s just that the amount sent to the Toronto District School Board for this purpose is about $125 million. The amount the Board actually spends on such programs, by the most generous calculation, according to its own staff reports is in the region of $30-40 million. In other words, that is less than one third of the grant.
How does the school board get away with it? The Ministry of Education’s Technical Paper (as mentioned above) says that it allows boards some latitude in deciding how to allocate the funds it spends for poor children. Most people would think that means deciding between extra reading teachers and smaller classes, or between free breakfasts and good physical education programs. What the Toronto District School Board thinks is that at least two-thirds of these grant dollars can go to a whole variety of things that run from covering higher energy costs to providing extra resources for French immersion; in other words expenditures that do not specifically target poor children’s needs.
As a result, when the Model Schools for the Inner City (www.tdsb.on.ca/modelschools/) and other programs for our most vulnerable children are cut, the trustees shamefully say that it is the Province’s fault for underfunding them (“We do agree that education in Ontario is disgracefully underfunded. We do agree that the Provinces’ failure to provide full funding for its new mandatory full-day kindergarten means that $9 million has to be found elsewhere in the staffing. We do agree that the increase in teacher-pupil ratios in the teaching contract the Province imposed on secondary school teachers took another $8 million that can only be found by cutting” (www.anyarticle from P4E). But when community members like us point the finger at the Provincial Government, its defenders can rightfully say: “Not true, we are giving three times as much as you are actually spending on special programs for the children we intended the money to go to.”
There are no angels here. What we need is for the Ministry to insist that the Learning Opportunities Grant (LOG) be actually spent as intended, and hold boards accountable for that. And what we also need is for the TDSB to allocate more not less of the LOG on programs for the most vulnerable children in our society.