Fundraising at schools located in affluent Toronto neighbourhoods can raise 300 times more per student than schools in low-income areas. In real dollars, that would amount to as much as $900 per child, compared to $3 per child in low-income neighbourhoods.
If education is the key to an equitable society, why isn’t the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) doing more to see to it that the opportunity for maximum facilitation of that goal is reached?
While Ontario teachers begin a round of strikes this week and negotiators sit at the bargaining table with the province to try to secure teachers’ interests, there are matters affecting outcomes for students that may not be on the agenda. One being that the neighbourhood in which a child’s school is located will dictate how enriched his or her school program is.
Many extracurricular programs depend heavily on fundraising within the school community. As such, schools located in wealthy neighbourhoods do very well, thank you, when fundraising needs to be done. In contrast, schools in low-income neighbourhoods fare less well.
The TDSB does provide an offset to bring more support to the less advantaged students through the Learning Opportunities Index and Model School programs, but they still do not correct for the fundraising capacity of the schools in affluent areas.
It would make sense therefore for the TDSB to more concretely address this ongoing inequity. We view this ongoing gap as a failure by the TDSB to adequately respond.
There has been some suggestion in the past that the TDSB set limits on how much funds can be raised, but to set a limit is impractical given the cost to provide add-ons to benefit students. And why limit the ability of school communities to do all they can to provide the best learning environment possible for all students? Some fundraising has for example gone to providing new playgrounds on school property.
Currently, children from many low-income neighbourhoods start their school careers already behind those in affluent neighbourhoods. The result is that they require more support just to catch up. Without that additional support those students will forever lag behind.
As it is now, teachers will have to bargain to try to retain some gains that had been achieved in terms of limiting classroom size and the amount of hours they can expect to give to after school programs. These may seem at first glance to be workplace issues, but when the focus within that workplace is the very future of the young people who are the teacher’s charge for a significant part of those students’ academic upbringing, it becomes clear that the interests of the students must be a priority.
It must be said though, that the problem of how funding is distributed through the board may be the bigger issue. We have only to call up recent controversies regarding how school board trustees are using funds to begin to have a sense of where money is going that could otherwise be directed to learning enrichment. Other matters of spending include questions revolving around school maintenance costs and whether there is enough oversight being given to how that budget is managed.
In addition, the province’s education ministry has already said it will close schools in order to rein in spending by $500 million in keeping with the Liberal government’s goal of balancing its budget.
If parents begin to feel that they are being put in a position of having to pay more out of pocket to try to ensure a solid education for their children, we should anticipate more public outcry.
As the teachers’ strikes make their rounds and eventually set up picket lines here in Toronto, we expect this conversation will again heat up.