Funding Ontario's Schools
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Disaster Capitalism and the Ontario Funding Formula

By S. Woods - 2008.

Our education system is in a state of crisis. Our children are being deprived of the best possible education because the McGuinty Liberals have kept using the original structure of the Harris government’s funding formula. Even though they have made adjustments and improvements to the funding formula over the years, the government continues to allow it to plague our school system. The education funding formula has a negative impact on every aspect of our children’s education, from the staff who operate the schools, to the physical school buildings themselves, to the community. Most importantly, however, is the negative impact upon our children, especially the youngest ones who are learning the foundations of life. The cuts will impact them so deeply as to affect who they will become as adults in Canadian society.

I have worked for the Toronto District School Board for almost a decade. I have not only seen the negative implications of the cuts on my students, and fellow employees, but I have also personally experienced some of the negative impacts of the funding formula. I have heard and read what the government has promised to do, as well as what many of the critics have said in opposition. My understanding is that the present government is purposely taking advantage of having the original Harris funding formula continue. If they allow it to continue and not reformulate it then they, the government, save money while keeping the schools operating in near ruins. Like author Naomi Klein, I call this “Disaster Capitalism”. Disaster Capitalism and the Ontario Funding Formula, to be exact!

I began working for the TDSB in 1999. For the first two years of my employment I worked at what is considered an inner-city Senior school. I was then transferred by my employer, because of budget and programme cuts, to an inner-city Junior school. I have been at this school for the past seven years. Because we are considered to be an inner-city school we have many special programmes that many other needy schools are not allocated, such as a literacy programme. However, this being said, many other very important programmes, such as English-as-a-Second-Language, have been cut from our school. This is not because of the lack of needy students, it is because of the lack of funding. Along with many special programmes, resources, supplies, and even staff have been cut. Yet the need for them remains, but is not within the budget to maintain them.

All that the budget does seem to maintain is the necessities to operate the school on a daily basis. Even these are at the bare minimum at best. For example, many of our lights do not work, and have not been replaced for at least the past 3 or 4 years; the heat is on at a core temperature of 70 degrees year round; the water in our sinks runs colder than the water in the water fountains; many of our outside doors have broken hinges and/or locks that need to be fixed or replaced, but they can still be physically pulled or pushed shut, so they are not repaired; etc., etc.

Our custodial workers, who were cut in numbers again this past year, are an incredible team but can only accomplish so much with the government’s operating guidelines. Our teaching staff does the best that they can for our students, but they too, along with our administration and support staff were cut in numbers again this year. Every year it seems that we are given more responsibilities with less funding to accomplish them. We are forced to adjust and rework programming each year, while trying not to have too much of a negative impact on our student body. This is an outrage! Somehow, before the Harris government’s funding formula was implemented, the necessities to operate a fully functioning school were being met and, at the same time, so were many special and important programmes. How is it that we supposedly keep receiving more funding year after year, according to the McGuinty Liberals, without the results of this extra funding being obvious?

The Harris funding formula has negatively influenced both my job and my students’ well-being every year that I have been employed. For example, during my first year of working, I taught the ESL class. I had very few concrete resources to use. Many of the lights in my in my classroom had burned out and ultimately never replaced. At the end of the year the programme was cut. My students were integrated into the regular programme and came to me regularly after school to ask for help. The second year, I worked with the students in the Integrated Programme. This means that all of the students who had previously been in a Special Education or ESL classroom with a specialized programme had their programmes collapsed. These students had now been placed into the regular programme with their average ability peers. I not only worked with my previous ESL students, I also assisted many Special education children, such as those with Attention Deficit Disorder or a Learning Disability. They needed help not only with their day-to-day school work but also with their organization, math, reading and writing skills. These children required a lot of one-on-one attention to simply function at school, I worked with approximately 50-75 students per day. They had to share textbooks. They had to supply their own paper, pencils, erasers and pens. The following year the Integrated programme was cut.

During my next year at work not only was my new programme cut after a matter of a couple months, but so was my position. I was surplus to my new posting at a Junior school and into a Kindergarten class. What a change that was. In this position I was now able to see how the Harris funding formula was negatively influencing our younger students’ learning.

In Kindergarten the children range in age from 3 to 5 years. Many studies have proven that early education is the most critical and important period. What is learned at this time determines a lot of who a child will become as an adult. I believe that this age group is negatively impacted by the funding cuts more than any other group. As an educator, I can really see, first hand, the impact on the children. I, quite simply, do not receive enough funds to properly supply my two classes with the necessary tools by which to teach them. Every year is a struggle. We are each given a budget to purchase our consumable supplies not only for that school year but must make sure there is enough money for supplies to start up again the following September.

This budget is not sufficient to purchase all of the supplies needed to run a well-balanced Kindergarten programme. We require pencils, glue, different types of paper and the regular things that most classrooms need, however, a Kindergarten requires much more. This is because we not only teach our students the basics, like their ABC’s and 123’s but also how to read for the first time; how to colour; how to cut; how to print; how to paint; how to glue; how to build; how to interact with other children of the same age; how to interact with adults; how to listen; how to share; etc. We teach so many things that many of the children may be seeing for the first time. Things that most people take for granted. To do all of this teaching we require more funds than the typical class.

Our biggest issue with the budget is that it does not allow us to supply our children with the fundamentals to learn for an entire year. For example, when something breaks it cannot be replaced. When our old books fall apart for the third time they get thrown out because they cannot be taped up again. Things break and get lost in a Kindergarten. Where is there room in the budget for that? Children of this age cannot always be expected to be accountable, and they should not have to be denied because of the lack of funding.

Every year our teachers spend their own money to buy some of the necessary supplies that they feel their classroom is lacking. They do not expect to be refunded for this . . . it is just what teachers do. They love to teach and want the classroom environment to be the best for learning. There are not many other occupations where the employees personally need to supplement the budget with no reimbursement expected. The issues with today’s funding formula date back to when Mike Harris first took office and John Snobelen was appointed the Minister of Education. In September of 1995 a video was leaked to the Canadian Press of Snobelen where he told a close-door meeting of civil servants that before cuts to education could be announced, a climate of panic, that he described as “creating a useful crisis” would have to take place. It was a part of the Tory plan to cut education spending when Harris took office.

Then in 1997, Snobelen introduced BILL 160. which gave the province control of municipal education taxes, cut teaching preparation time, allowed the government to determine class sizes, and granted early retirement initiatives to older, more experienced teachers. The Conservatives, under Mike Harris, are the ones who ruined our education system and implemented the original flawed funding formula. Since 2003 the McGuinty Liberals have been working at improving the mess that Harris and his party left behind in their wake. In his 2007 campaign McGuinty was quoted as saying that education is the Liberals’ top priority. If this is so, then there should have been many progressive improvements over the past four years in the aim of funding. According to the Ministry of Education website many improvements have been made, while others are in the works.

The Harris Conservative Government was the downfall of the Ontario Education System. They damaged it greatly and the McGunity Liberals are now picking up the pieces. I understand that it takes time to process new policies and implement new changes. However I believe that the list of priorities on McGuinty’s agenda should be reworked. The government should start from scratch and create a new education funding formula that is realistic. In the original Harris funding formula the cost given to educate each child was $3,367 annually, which is equivalent to $17.35 a day. This paid for teachers, class supplies, computers, teacher assistants, administration staff, support staff and other paraprofessionals.

Although the McGuinty Liberals have supplemented this amount for various programmes, critics agree that there is still not enough money allocated in the funding formula to pay the necessary education fees without increasing the deficit. Many improvements have been made since McGuinty was elected to power and many others are to come, however, the funding for the necessities to operate the schools should be the Liberals’ top priority. Once this becomes available then the other secondary items on the education agenda can be worried about.

The government should renew the budget in order to have an impact on the students in the schools today, so that the foundations are strengthened for the students of tomorrow. Public education is supposed to provide equal opportunities to the children of diverse backgrounds and cultures so that they can grow up to become productive citizens. The children who need additional support are the real victims of underfunding. “Children are an investment,” stated Milton Friedman. The child, parents and society all benefit from educating a child.

As long as the basic structure of the original flawed funding formula remains in use our children’s education will continue to suffer and they will feel the impact for the rest of their lives.

See Also:

Education as a Commodity in North America

The Erosion of Public Schools in Ontario

Privatization in Canada: Education, Electricity, Two-Tier Healthcare and Water Safety

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