RURAL EDUCATION STRATEGY OVERDUE: report on school closings finds disproportionate impact on rural boards
For immediate release
Toronto (May 4, 2017) – The non-profit group, People for Education, examined accommodation review data from Ontario’s 72 school boards this spring, to determine the number of schools closing. The organization looked at reports from school boards on each step of the school closing process, from initial school board staff recommendations, to recommendations from Accommodation Review Committees, to final votes by boards of trustees.
Funding changes, declining enrolment hit southern rural board hard
People for Education’s analysis shows that currently there are 34 school boards with school closings planned. The group also produced an interactive map of the schools to be closed, which shows that the majority are in rural areas, mainly in Southern Ontario. In the boards with schools closing:
- school board staff have recommended that 121 schools close – most of them between June 2017 and June 2020;
- as of April 30, 2017, trustees had voted to close 58 of the staff recommended schools;
- votes are pending for a further 52 of the schools that staff have recommended to close;
- there are approximately 33,000 students in schools recommended to close; and
- 25 new schools are proposed, most consolidating student populations from two or more closing schools.
Negative impact of declining enrolment and changes to education funding formula
School boards receive the majority of their funding from the province based on numbers of students. For boards with declining enrolment, this has created challenges and cuts to funding.
In boards with schools that are closing, enrolment has declined by 71,364 students over the last 15 years. The enrolment decline, along with recent changes to the provincial funding formula, has had a significant impact on funding, particularly for those boards with a high number of small and/or under-enrolled schools.
The province – in part to balance the provincial budget, and in part to discourage school boards from keeping open schools with substantial empty space – has made cuts to declining enrolment grants, and “top-up” funding for school operations that ministry staff say may have provided incentives to keep schools open.
Changes to school closing guidelines
In 2015, the province also released new Pupil Accommodation Review Guidelines, which have also had an impact on school closings. The guidelines provide new (and some have argued, reduced) minimum standards required for school boards in developing their pupil accommodation review process. Among other things, the new guidelines reduced the minimum number of meetings and the overall amount of time required for the school closing process.
Consultations on rural education
In late April, the Ministry of Education announced consultations on a rural education strategy. These consultations will look at “how we can best support rural and remote communities and ensure that students have access to a full range of learning opportunities”
“A review of rural education funding is long overdue,” says Annie Kidder, Executive Director of People for Education. “It is not reasonable to think that all schools can stay open, but at the same time it is vital that we don’t accelerate the exodus from rural Ontario by hamstringing boards with inappropriate and insufficient funding for their small town and rural schools.”
In their report, People for Education points out that, in rural communities, the impact of a school closing often reaches beyond the loss of the school building itself. Closing the local school may mean both the loss of a valuable community asset, and long bus rides for students. It can also affect the economic and social viability of the community itself, with families less likely to settle in an area without a local school.
For more information, please call: 416-534-0100