School board budget struggles reflect provincial funding cuts

July 4, 2002

"The budget crises experienced by school boards across the province this year shouldn't surprise anyone", the author of a new CCPA study says. "The boards' budget struggles are in direct response to massive cuts in education funding by the Conservative Government since it took office in 1995."

The study, Cutting Classes: Elementary and Secondary Education Funding in Ontario 2002-03, finds that even with the increases announced in this year's provincial budget, between $2.2 and $2.5 billion has been cut from elementary and secondary education funding in Ontario since 1994, the year before the Harris Government took office.

The study's major findings include:

  • The Government's claim to have increased funding for education in Ontario is valid only if you ignore enrolment growth and cost increases. Adjusting for cost increases since 1994, funding per student has dropped by between $1,100 and $1,250.
  • Despite the Government's claim that its funding formula only addressed inequities in education funding under the previous system, the study finds that, since 1997, funding per student has dropped by $581, once cost increases are taken into account. The total shortfall for school boards which have lost funding comes to $1.28 billion, while the gain for previously-underfunded boards comes to $114 million.
  • In fact, what has happened under the funding formula is that funding for all boards has been brought down to a level that, in 1997, was generally recognized as inadequate. Smaller, separate school boards were the worst funded boards in 1997. Now all boards share that same degree of underfunding.
  • Even on its own terms, the funding formula has failed Ontario students. After allowing for enrolment changes and cost increases, funding allocated to school boards by the province under the formula has declined in every year since formula funding was introduced for the 1998-9 school year.
  • In the 2002-3 allocation, there was no allowance for cost increases in the foundation grant, which covers basic classroom functions or in the grant for school operations. Despite large and growing waiting lists for services, the special education grant was increased at only half the rate of growth of enrolment and made no allowance for cost increases.