The Canadian Press
TORONTO–Schools in richer areas of Ontario fundraise twice as much as schools in poorer areas, creating a gap in education that could be limiting opportunities for some students, according to a report from an education advocacy group released today.
The People for Education report, based on survey results from 1,254 schools, suggests that they depend on fundraising by parents and communities to increase budgets and to provide “enhanced or optional programming” such as field trips and some classroom materials.
This ends up “reproducing patterns of advantage and disadvantage” as students attending a school in an area where parents are more likely to have higher levels of education and make more money will raise more money and will have more resources at school than students in a low-income area.
“Experiences outside of the classroom help students develop competencies and skills that are foundational for success in today’s economy and complex world.
When schools rely on fundraising to provide these opportunities, it can create inequities,” the report said.
“If public education in Ontario is to provide every child with an equitable chance for success, all students must have access to the programs, resources, and activities that foster competencies for long term success.”
The report also noted that research shows extracurricular activities such as sports, music and art in schools are linked to positive well-being and learning outcomes that develop creativity, leadership and a sense of community.
Ninety-nine per cent of the surveyed elementary schools and 89 percent of secondary schools report fundraising in 2019.
The top 10 percent of elementary schools in high-income areas raised 33 times the amount raised by the bottom 10 percent of schools in low-income areas, with some schools reporting raising as much as $100,000.
For secondary schools, the top five percent raised as much as the bottom 82 percent combined, with some schools reporting raising $220,000, according to People for Education data.
Most elementary schools fundraise for technology, sports and charities, according to the report.
Ontario schools also raise funds by charging students fees for activities and materials used to complement and not replace education funding, such as agendas and optional art or music supplies.
But the schools rely on fundraising to purchase items that can provide significant educational advantages for students, such as technology and sports equipment.
In 85 percent of secondary schools, students pay activity fees ranging from $10 to $300, with an average fee of $44, according to the report. Seventy-eight percent of secondary schools ask students to pay athletic fees that can range from $1 to $1,500, with an average fee of $116, but almost all schools waive fees for families who cannot afford them.
However, the surveyed schools reported that only three percent of students asked to have fees waived.
“This may be due to students’ or families’ concern about a stigma attached to being unable to pay fees,” the report said.
In April, the Ontario government cut the amount of money school boards receive per student, though marginally increasing the overall funding, and slashed several education grants as part of its plan to eliminate an $11.7 billion deficit.
Overall funding to school boards will be $24.66 billion, up slightly from $24.53 billion this year. But boards will get an average of $12,246 per pupil, versus the $12,300 they got in this school year, due to higher enrolment.
The People for Education report states that schools also apply for grants from businesses, philanthropic or non-profit organizations and the Ontario government, with amounts ranging from $100 to more than $100,000.
In 2019, 75 percent of surveyed elementary schools and 83 percent of secondary schools report receiving money through grants.
While the amounts of some specific grants and funds will increase, others are being cut or eliminated entirely, also announced by the province in April.