Back in 2013, as two reform-minded trustees from the 1980s, we took a look at the latest School-Based Staffing budget of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). Shockingly, it included a 50% cut in 60 special secondary teachers in schools in high poverty neighbourhoods and a 35% cut in the elementary staffing budget for Model Schools in similar neighbourhoods. The Board blamed declining secondary school enrolment and chronic provincial underfunding of schools. True enough, but the Board did not explain that the provincial grants actually included plenty of money explicitly for our most vulnerable children’s education.
This comes through a special Learning Opportunities Grant. According to the Ministry this is to support “boards in offering a wide range of programs to improve the educational achievement” of students whose socio-economic background is associated with “a higher risk of academic difficulties.” Eduspeak for teaching poor kids. So? Well. the amount sent to the TDSB for this purpose in 2013 was about $125 million. We checked how much the Board actually spent on those programs. The Board’s own staff reports said it was around $30-40 million. In other words, less than one third.
How did they get away with it? The Ministry’s Technical Paper says it allows boards some latitude in deciding how to spend the funds it sends for poor kids. You’d think that means deciding between extra reading teachers, smaller classes, free breakfasts and good physical education programs for this population. But the TDSB spends at least two-thirds on a whole variety of programs and staff for all schools; in other words expenditures that have nothing specifically for poor kids.
So when programs and staff for our most vulnerable children are cut, the trustees shamefully say it’s the Province’s fault for underfunding. But when we blame the Province, they can rightfully say: “Not true, we are giving three times as much as you actually spend on programs for the children intended.”
So, in 2018, has any of this changed. Infuriatingly, the sad answer is no.
Obviously we need trustees who both understand complex budgets and who are determined to get a fairer shake for the most vulnerable children in our city.