People for Education’s response to the provincial consultation on education funding
In September, the provincial government released a report they had commissioned, “Managing Transformation: A Modernization Action Plan for Ontario.” The report states that the government is looking for “efficiency gains” of approximately 4%.
For education, this could translate into the elimination of approximately $960 million in expenses.
The Ministry of Education is asking for input in a number of areas to help the province “find efficiencies and improve accountability”, including:
EFFICIENT PRICE-SETTING (setting benchmarks for the most efficient cost to deliver services)
One example of “efficient price-setting” is funding for school operations. School boards receive funding to heat, light and maintain school buildings based on a benchmark average square footage per student, and an average cost per square foot. The consultation guide asks if there are efficiencies that could be found here and in other benchmarked areas – such as class size funding. It also asks if there are other categories that could be added to this type of funding.
People for Education’s response:
Efficiency and effectiveness are both critical in spending on education. However, a number of challenges with efficient pricing need to be considered, including:
- Ensuring prices or benchmarks keep up with current costs
- Ensuring benchmarks are flexible enough to take into account differences in costs based on geography and student populations
- Ensuring any funding based on demographics (eg. Special Education, Learning Opportunities, and Languages funding) is based on up-to-date statistical data.
OUTCOMES-BASED FUNDING (targeting funding for resources and programs with measurable outcomes)
Currently, education funding is not specifically outcomes-based (this has been raised in reports from Ontario’s Auditor General). The consultation guidelines do not clarify which outcomes might be used to assess the effectiveness of programs.
People for Education’s response:
People for Education has argued that Ontario’s current outcome measures – provincial test scores in reading, writing and mathematics, graduation rates and credit accumulation – have led to a reduced focus on areas outside those being measured (eg. the arts, guidance, health and physical education programs, and enrichment outside the classroom). Before implementing outcomes-based funding, the province needs to take into account the importance of “the new basics” – the transferable skills and competencies (sometimes referred to as “21st century skills” or “global competencies”) that every student needs to succeed in today’s economy and complex world.
Outcomes-based funding can have a positive impact on Language Grants. In the past, we have recommended that funding for English- and French-language learners be based not on the number of years students are in Canada, but instead on whether or not students had reached a standard proficiency in English or French. With outcomes-based Language Grants, funding could potentially continue until a student has appropriate language skills.
The guide uses the Learning Opportunities Grant (LOG) as an example of funding that could be outcomes-based. The LOG grant was originally intended to fund targeted programs for students who – based on demographics, or socio-economic status – may be at risk of academic failure or disengagement. It was meant to support things like targeted lower class sizes, increased numbers of guidance counsellors, homework help, before- and after-school programs, and breakfast/lunch programs. The grant has expanded to include a number of literacy and numeracy programs for all students, regardless of their socio-economic status. In her 2016 report, Ontario’s Auditor recommended that the province assess whether grants like the LOG are achieving their specific purpose.
People for Education has recommended that the province develop a new Equity in Education Grant to support “resources, programs, opportunities, and strategies that have been shown to mitigate the impact of socio-economic factors on students’ chances for success in school.” In this case, it is vital for outcomes measures to go far beyond literacy, numeracy and graduation rates. They should include a wide range of factors such as student engagement, suspension rates, progress on measures from the Early Development Instrument (EDI), and acquisition of a range of competencies and skills.
ACCOUNTABILITY AND VALUE-FOR-MONEY (defined as “giving taxpayers best service for money”)
The guide asks whether some currently funded areas are not “core to the delivery of education”, and whether there are other ways to provide access to what it calls “non-core programming.” It also suggests that the Ministry may conduct a targeted review of some of the funding it provides to school boards, to increase accountability.
People for Education’s response
People for Education, Ontario’s Auditor General, and many other organizations have been recommending a full review of education funding for a number of years. Through our Annual Ontario School Survey, People for Education monitors programs and resources in Ontario schools and makes recommendations for change. In our 2017 and 2018 annual reports on Ontario’s publicly funded schools, we identified areas where there are policy overlaps, and made recommendations for changes to education funding to ensure students across the province have equitable access to programs and resources that support the full spectrum of learning.
OTHER EDUCATION FUNDING EFFICIENCIES (examining areas where there is overlap or duplication)
According to the consultation guide, the ministry is evaluating “opportunities to streamline, review and strategically bundle education funding.” The guide asks for input on areas where there are overlaps or duplication within the Grants for Student Needs (GSN), as well as in the funding components that sit outside the GSN. Funding outside the GSN includes things like Community Use of Schools, Experiential Learning, an “Innovation in Learning” fund, Safe, Accepting and Healthy schools and Mental Health, Parents Reaching Out Grants, Ontario’s Equity Action Plan, etc. (see chart).
People for Education’s response
There may be more effective ways to support services and programs for children and young people. However, new policies/strategies should be less about identifying what is “non-core” and more about delivering these essential programs more effectively.
The province has a number of initiatives focused on integrated planning and supports that may alleviate some overlap, integrate services, and reduce duplication. But before removing “non-core” programming in education, it is vital to ensure that the programs or services are available through other accessible and public means.