Dependence on private dollars in public classrooms raises concerns about equity, accountability—report

May 15, 2006

Toronto—A wide variety of private fundraising initiatives in Canada’s public schools could threaten equitable, high quality, publicly accountable education for students across the country. This finding is from Commercialism in Canadian Schools: Who’s Calling the Shots?, a report detailing and analyzing the results from a national survey of commercialism in Canada’s public schools.

The report – the first of its kind – documents the nature and extent of commercial activities in elementary and secondary schools and the degree to which public funding is being replaced or supplemented by private funding sources, including school fundraising, advertising, partnerships and sponsorships, corporate-sponsored educational materials and user fees. Provincial/regional, language and grade level analysis ensures this is the most comprehensive and current picture of commercial activities taking place in our public schools.

The survey and report are joint initiatives of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), and the Fédération des syndicats de l’enseignement (FSE is a member of the Quebec-based Centrale des syndicats du Québec).

“For years we have documented anecdotal evidence of commercial activities taking place in schools. Now for the first time we have quantitative data about the kinds of private money and initiatives in classrooms across the country,” explains Erika Shaker, Director of the CCPA Education Project. “At a time when public money for schools is being reduced, reallocated or otherwise threatened, such information is invaluable.”

In addition to quantitative analysis, the report documents measures being taken at the provincial and territorial level to address issues such as the reliance of schools on fundraising, advertising in schools, user fees, and the presence of junk food in schools.

“The problem is less serious in Quebec where legal and statutory parameters regulate advertising to children and solicitation in schools”, says Alain Pélissier, CSQ Secretary-Treasurer. “But that does not mean that commercialization is not taking place in Quebec schools. On the contrary, it takes other forms such as fund-raising campaigns, foundations and solicitation of funds from private companies for the maintenance of school yards, and all of this concerns us as a central labour body. We cannot let private charity and the strategic generosity of businesses become the means for public schools to provide quality services to their students.”

Among the report’s findings:

  • About a third of schools reported the presence of advertising in or on the school, with higher rates in secondary schools than in elementary schools.
  • 27% of schools had an exclusive marketing arrangement with Coke or Pepsi.
  • The majority of schools reported charging user fees for a variety of programs and services. 15% of elementary schools and 21% of secondary schools reported selling services to generate revenue.
  • Fundraising activities are common in schools, with money being raised for school trips, library books, athletic programs and technology; 60% of elementary schools reported fundraising for library books.
  • Schools reported raising – through fundraising and other activities, including user fees, advertising revenue and partnerships/sponsorships – amounts of money ranging from a few hundred dollars to, in some cases, several hundred thousand dollars.

“Public education – high quality, equitable, publicly funded and accountable, and universally accessible – is the cornerstone of our democratic society. Commercialism in Canadian Schools: Who’s Calling the Shots? allows us to take stock of how and where schools are relying on private funding sources which do not come with a guarantee of stability, accountability or equity – and therefore stand to erode the very qualities we cherish in our education system,” concludes Winston Carter, CTF President.


For more information contact Kerri-Anne Finn, CCPA Communications Officer, (613) 563-1341 ext. 306