Provincial funding to support community access to schools is making a difference – but barriers continue
TORONTO – The Community Use of Schools (CUS) program is approaching its 5th anniversary of sustained and enhanced provincial investments to lower fees and help open up access to schools as ‘hubs’ of community activity and support. The new study Progress and Pitfalls, by Social Planning Toronto and the SPACE Coalition, finds that while access to schools is improving, more action is required.
Outlining research and recommendations for strengthening Ontario’s CUS programs and increasing access to municipal space, the 2009 report titled Progress and Pitfalls: A Review of Community Use of Schools & Access to Municipal Spaces will be released today.
"Schools need to have a greater purpose in our communities. They need to be funded adequately to act as community hubs where community members of all ages can access services, programs and support," says Neethan Shan, Executive Director of the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians.
The CUS program was launched in July 2004 with a $20 million investment, and a public commitment was announced in 2008 to further enhance funding to an annual level of $66 million by 2012. In 2008 funding was increased to $33 million across Ontario, a 65% increase over 2007. Further demonstrating its commitment to this program, when the Province launched the Focus on Youth program in 2007 it included free access to schools in high need areas in Toronto as a core component of this new program. Despite the investment disparity in access continues.
“Our research shows that thanks to the provincial Community Use of Schools program we are seeing the return of community groups to schools, helping to put the heart back into communities,” says John Campey, Executive Director of Social Planning Toronto. “We must now ensure that all groups are able to gain access equitably.”
“From my past experiences getting recreational space for programming has been difficult and somewhat frustrating due to the way in which the system has been set up. However, as of late it seems easier to get our permits for the space we have requested. I feel this is because of the knowledge and experience my new fellow co-workers have in navigating the system,” says Khalid Samuels, Recreation Coordinator, For Youth Initiative.
"By 2012, the Ontario government has committed to spending $66 M on the Community Use of Schools. More engagement with community, especially marginalized groups, and more accountability is needed by the Province and boards to make sure the funds are used in the most effective way, opening up our schools to all for the well-being of the community," says Susan Fletcher, Chair of the SPACE Coalition and Executive Director of Applegrove Community Complex.
This year the survey also included a component investigating community experience in permitting municipal space to operate programs or activities. Each municipality has its own fee structure. Some non-profit organizations can access space for free, while other organizations can face fee increases with little advance notice. Provincial action is needed to ensure that municipal space is accessible and affordable to all.