The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is the largest school board in Canada and has a total operating budget of approximately $2.8 billion. The Ministry of Education provides funding based on student enrolment and the unique needs of each school board.
Students from economically and socially marginalized conditions experience greater challenges in their educational opportunities, health and social relationships and are at higher risk of academic difficulties. In recognition of this, the Ministry has been providing the Learning Opportunity Grant (LOG) since 1998 in addition to regular funds to improve the chances of success for these students. The Demographic Allocation of the grant, now recognized as part of the Province’s Poverty Reduction Strategy since 2009, is intended to finance programs such as breakfast programs, homework clubs, reading recovery and one-on-one support within the classroom, all of which help to level the playing field for marginalized students.
Similarly, the diversity of Ontario’s population means that some students require extra support to develop the English language skills needed to succeed academically. The Ministry of Education provides additional funding to support these students through the English as a Second Language/English Literacy Development (ESL/ELD) Allocation within its Language Grant to school boards.
Given the LOG and ESL/ELD funds, it would seem our most marginalized students are protected; however, deep-rooted problems in the Province’s funding formula leave the TDSB struggling to stretch the total Ministry allocated funds to cover all of its costs. To address this issue the TDSB is currently diverting approximately 2/3 of the LOG and 1/4 of the ESL grant to general expenditures. This trend is continuing in the 2013-2014 budget cycle. The LOG and ESL grant are being redistributed across the system when they should be concentrated to support students from low-income, racialized and marginalized neighbourhoods.
Since 2000, the Toronto District School Board has been claiming that all students will be “provided with equitable opportunities to be successful in our system; that institutional barriers to such success are identified and removed; and that all learners are provided with supports and rewards to develop their abilities and achieve their aspirations”. A school board that so publicly celebrates its equitable and inclusive mission should use the funds it has been given by the Province as they were meant to be used – to support its students with the greatest need. Yet once again the TDSB is balancing its budget on the backs of its most marginalized students.