Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Ontario’s schools have issues – but don’t blame funding cuts

Deani Van Pelt and Jason Clemens are co-authors of the Fraser Institute report on Education Spending and Public Student Enrolment in Canada

It's that time of year again when parents are preparing their kids to return to school after the summer break. And when parents in Ontario meet in the schoolyards and drop-zones for the first time in months, conversations may turn to cuts in education funding, the elimination of an education assistant, the state of class sizes, or perhaps even the closing of a school.

So it's an opportune time to understand the reality of education spending in Ontario versus the convenient rhetoric.

Story continues below advertisement

It's easy for administrators, politicians and other apologists for public schools to blame the observed problems on a lack of funding. It allows education leaders to point the finger at someone else. The reality, however, is that the public-school system in Ontario has received large increases in funding over the last decade, which implies that the problems in the education system relate to organization and management rather than funding.

First, some facts about education spending on public schools in Ontario. According to data from Statistics Canada, total spending on public-school education in Ontario has grown from $18.4-billion in 2004-2005 to $25.7-billion 2013-2014, the most recent year of available data. That's an increase of $7.3-billion in education spending in just a decade.

But crucially, that $7.3-billion increase underestimates the real increase in education spending in the province because it ignores enrolment. Statistics Canada data indicate that over the same 10-year period, enrolment in public schools in Ontario declined 5.1 per cent, from roughly 2.1 million students to 2.0 million students.

Accounting for the higher spending levels and lower number of students means that the per student level of spending in public schools increased 25 per cent between 2004-2005 and 2013-2014. (And this data accounts for the effects of inflation.) Specifically, per-student spending in public schools in Ontario increased from $10,204 in 2004-2005 to $12,753 in 2013-2014. Simply put, Ontario is spending considerably more money now, on a per-student basis, on public schools than it did a decade ago.

This is not to say that individual schools, school districts and even the province as a whole are not struggling with K-12 education. Indeed, many parents (including the two authors of this article) are acutely aware of resource challenges at our local schools.

But the explanation for these individual resource challenges cannot be a lack of money. And it certainly can't be from a cut in education spending, which as noted above, has actually been increased dramatically over the last decade.

Rather, for an explanation for resource challenges in Ontario's public schools, look to how the system is organized and managed. Public schools suffer from the same incentive and organizational problems as any other government agency or department, which leads to the misallocation and wasting of resources.

Story continues below advertisement

Archaic regulations, union monopoly (which helps create misaligned incentives for both bureaucrats and educators), lack of responsiveness to parental demands, and centralized, prescriptive curriculum are just a few of the many handcuffs holding back Ontario's public-school systems. Consequently, the problems in Ontario public education require a fundamental restructuring rather than simple complaints about a lack of resources.

Report an error
Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.