Outdated funding put schools at risk

Thursday April 24, 2008   CityNews.ca  

Hundreds of schools across the province are at risk of closure thanks to declining enrolment and an outdated provincial funding system, a recent study suggests.

People for Education released a report Wednesday that outlines the effects lower birth rates are having on the school system, especially in rural areas. School boards across Ontario have 90,000 fewer students than they did six years ago, the group says.

The education advocacy group also claims the provincial funding system hasn't kept pace with changing demographics. The funding formula has remained unchanged since 1997.

It takes 769 elementary students to get funding for one teacher-librarian, but the average enrolment in elementary schools is now 331 kids, according to the report.

"Much of the funding that school boards receive is based on numbers of students," the report said. "As a result, fewer students equals less funding, fewer programs and, in many cases, closing schools."

People for Education says 300 schools are slated for closure across the province,  affecting some 100,000 students.

Annie Kidder of People for Education says instead of closing the classrooms, the government should consider ways to partner with municipalities to increase community use of the facilities.

But Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty insists all school closures aren't bad and claims his government has built a new school for every one that's been shut.

"Schools open and close in the natural order of things," McGuinty said. "The issue is, how are we doing in terms of academic achievement? I think it would be a mistake to equate the number of buildings with how well our students are doing."

"If (school boards) can put more money into supports for kids and less money into supporting buildings which aren't really serving their intended purpose, that's probably a good thing."