New report exposes huge flaws in the numbers behind the government’s push to close schools
TORONTO – It’s time to put the brakes on school closures, warns Ontario’s largest union, in light of a new report showing estimates used by the province to justify closures are inaccurate.
“Bad math should never be used to justify closing schools,” says Fred Hahn, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario. “This report shows the government is using deeply flawed data in their push for school closures across the province, regardless of what’s needed in our communities or what makes sense for our children.”
A new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), released today, shows that the government’s estimate of the cost to keep schools open is wrong, thanks to a series of inflated estimates and flaws in funding formulae, some dating back to the years of the Mike Harris government. It also reveals boards are paying millions for programs introduced, but not fully funded, by the government.
“Schools are the heart of our community,” says Terri Preston, chair of CUPE’s Ontario School Boards, Coordinating Committee, which represents some 55,000 support workers in all four provincial school systems. “Closing them impacts all students, especially in rural areas where kids inevitably face dramatically increased time on buses when their local school is shut.”
“And we’re not just talking about the impact on classrooms. Schools are used by all sorts of community groups who need public space. Many incorporate community centres, the local public swimming pool, child care centres, adult education and language training – all of which the Ministry counts as unused space,” says Preston. “The government has long talked about the importance of schools as community hubs, but when we look at school utilization rates, those important community uses aren’t accounted for at all. It’s time to change those calculations.”
According to the CCPA report, the provincial funding formula fails to take into account, for example, that special education classrooms will necessarily have fewer students. Likewise, non-credit adult education programs offered by school boards – usually with an emphasis on serving new immigrant populations – have lower densities and lower rates of funding, which skews the government’s assessment of how much space is being used. Boards also continue to struggle with a formula that provides funding below the average school’s operating costs.
“Closing schools is a mistake. It rips the heart out of a community and loses public space forever, with no regard for future need,” says Hahn. “Using bad numbers to try and force those closures on elected trustees, parents and our communities, is wrong and it has to stop. The smart thing to do is for the government to work with school boards, parents and education workers to develop the funding formulae our schools need to provide these critical public services.”
CUPE is Ontario’s community union, with members providing quality public services we all rely on in every part of the province every day. CUPE Ontario members are proud to work in social services, health care, municipalities, school boards, universities and airlines.
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