What is “non-core” funding?
By Annie Kidder, Executive Director, People for Education
What is “non-core” funding? That’s going to be one of the next big questions in public education in Ontario.
I’ll start with a story:
About ten years ago, a school board in Northern Ontario was building its first new school in decades. The board got a grant from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund to do an extensive consultation in the thirteen municipalities that the school would serve. Everyone agreed that the area was in need of new services. Unemployment was very high, there were few services for seniors, there were no community meeting spaces, and kids were learning to swim in a tiny pool in the basement of a hotel.
After the consultation, the board went to the Ministry of Education with their well thought-out plans. The shop in the new school would be big enough and usable after hours for much-needed job-training, the gym would include a fitness room that could be used by the growing seniors’ population, there would be an auditorium available for community use, and a pool, so that all the children in neighbouring towns could take swimming lessons.
The response from the Ministry of Education?
“Sorry, we won’t fund this – it’s not our ‘core business.’”
In its recently completed consultations on education funding, the Ministry asked whether there were “parts of the funding formula that are not core to the delivery of education in Ontario.”
And just this week, the Ministry cut funding to some of those “non-core” areas, including things like some student engagement programs, after school and summer jobs programs for young people in so-called priority neighbourhoods, initiatives to help kids access post-secondary education, some well-being and mental health initiatives, and programs supporting collaborative projects with Indigenous communities.
But what is the core business of education?
Should it include programs to support students’ mental health? What about breakfast programs, or summer jobs? Adult education? Community use of schools and childcare? Human rights advisors?
There is no doubt that there may be more effective ways to support children and young people than funding everything through education. But we have to make sure that the programs or services are available through other accessible and public means before simply removing what may be “non-core” for education.
This means that we need coherent policies and goals for children and young people – from birth through post-secondary education. That will require working across Ministries and levels of government.
The province, in its funding consultation guide, also suggested that more funding should be “outcomes-based.” But here too, it’s vital to think first about what those outcomes should be, and then figure out which ministries, levels of government, or agencies should deliver the programs to support them.
Long gone are the days of assuming that the core business – or indeed, the core outcome – of education is ensuring kids have a grasp of the 3 R’s. If we are to graduate students who can thrive in today’s complex world and tomorrow’s economy, we need to define a new set of outcomes for the new basics. Those new basics include skills and competencies that will ensure young people can get and keep jobs, take care of their mental and physical health, manage risks, develop a sense of connectedness, and participate in a democracy.
The next step isn’t so much deciding what is “non-core” as it is deciding where and how young people should have access to the programs and resources that build essential skills for long term success.