Meeting Students' Needs

What Does Ontario's Education Funding Model Need to Include?

Ministry of Education and Training

September 19, 1996

Meeting Students' Needs: What Does Ontario's Education Funding Model Need to Include?

1. Introduction

The need for fairness to all Ontario students demands that we re-examine how we allocate and spend the funds available for education. Parents must be assured that, no matter where they live in Ontario, their children have the same opportunity to excel. The education of all students must benefit from Ontario's wealth.

This means that the funds available for students must be distributed as fairly as possible. We must direct as many dollars as possible to the student and the classroom. We need better measurement of how well resources are being managed.

A fair funding model must also be responsive to the variety of challenges facing communities. Differences in language, geography, population, and social and economic conditions are significant factors affecting the cost of delivering education. Moreover, the current model is complex and difficult to understand, with 34 different grants. There are also differences in the amount of money communities are able to raise through local property tax.

For example, it is estimated that in 1995 per pupil spending by school boards* varied from a high of more than $7,500 to a low of less than $5,000. The estimated average spending on each pupil for Ontario as a whole was less than $5,900. (* These figures do not include a number of small school boards in Northern Ontario that have very high costs because of the unique circumstances they face.)

This year, the people of Ontario will spend more than $13 billion on elementary and secondary education. This money pays for the education of 1.9 million students enrolled in 5,200 schools, learning under the direction of about 120,000 teachers.

This paper:

  • outlines problems in the current education funding system;
  • proposes a set of principles for a new model;
  • describes the basic features of the model now being developed; and
  • presents several issues for discussion.

Its purpose is to gather information that will help the Ontario government construct a funding model that will be fair to everyone, direct resources to the classroom, and make it easier to see how education funds are spent. This reflects the government's commitment to open and better government.

We need your assistance in identifying the significant features in your community that need to be recognized in a provincial funding model. Your views are important to us as we develop a new, more flexible model that will meet the needs of today's students.

At the end of this paper you will find several questions on which we would like your comments. Responses can be mailed to: Meeting Students' Needs, Ministry of Education and Training, 24th Floor, Mowat Block, 900 Bay Street, Toronto ON  M7A 1L2 or faxed to: (416) 325-6370. Responses can also be e-mailed to: Please respond by October 7, 1996.

2. Current Problems with Education Funding

A number of problems with the current funding model are a result of its heavy reliance on the local property tax as a source of revenue. The government has recently established an education subpanel of the Who Does What initiative to review the way funds are raised for education in the province. This paper will consider how the funds are distributed and spent.

The funding model that Ontario has been using has several weaknesses related to how funds are distributed and spent:

  • Spending per student varies widely throughout the province – variations that cannot be completely explained by geographic, social, or demographic factors.
  • The funding model does not adequately recognize the true costs of delivering education programs and services.
  • The funding model has become overly complex and difficult to understand and administer – there are more than thirty special grants, each with its own eligibility rules.
  • The province has difficulty directing more education spending to the school and classroom, where it counts.
  • The funding model does not clarify the funding decisions for which the province is responsible and those for which the local level is responsible.
  • Reporting on education spending is inadequate, thus weakening accountability and raising taxpayer concerns about the costs of education.

3. Principles of Education Funding

The new funding model must be based on a set of principles. We are proposing the following:

  • There are no second-class students in Ontario.
  • The focus of funding is the student in the classroom.
  • The funding model must be based on a realistic, fair, and reasonable idea of what it costs to provide high quality education.
  • The model must provide accountability to the government and the taxpayer.
  • The model must promote efficient and effective use of education dollars.
  • The model must share available resources fairly and recognize the limits to funding.
  • The model must be streamlined so that it is simpler to administer and easier to understand.
  • The model must recognize the significant differences among communities, schools and students and address these differences to ensure that excellence in education programming can be consistently attained.

4. Focusing Funding on the Student and the Classroom

Foundation Grant

A standard or common grant called the "foundation grant" will be provided for each student, based on the resources needed to offer consistent, high quality education. Although a per pupil grant currently exists, over time it has been altered and adjusted to the point that no one can describe what it is intended to fund.

The new grant will be calculated by identifying funding for a student's teachers, instructional supplies, and computers, and an allocation for the operation and administration of the school. The components of classroom instruction will thus become clearer. We will be able to tell how much it costs to teach a student and how much to provide administrative support.

The foundation grant will be made on a per-pupil basis, and will cover the items found in the budget of most schools. It will also provide support for the education of students with special needs.

Through information now being collected from school boards, the province will be better able to determine a figure that reflects the cost of offering a good education to a typical student in an Ontario school. This figure must be derived in such a way that the public and school boards understand what factors were used in its calculation.

Specific Program Funding

Grants beyond the foundation grant have been given for special programs such as junior kindergarten and full day senior kindergarten, adult and continuing education, pupils eligible for placement in a provincial facility for deaf and/or blind students, pupils in care treatment and correctional facilities transportation and school board administration and governance. Should these programs continue to be funded this way? Can this part of the grant structure be streamlined and delivered in an accountable fashion?

5. Adapting the Model to Meet Local Needs

Providing all students with fair funding lies at the heart of this model. We know, however, that Ontario schools provide education under a wide variety of conditions to students with sharply varying needs. These differences can occur in both urban and rural settings. They may affect both large boards and small.

In addition to the foundation grant, therefore, the funding method will be designed to recognize special local circumstances. The following briefly explains how these adjustments for local needs will be made.

Currently the Ministry provides 34 separate grants to address these needs, each with its own rules and guidelines. Grants are provided for programs such as instruction in English or French as second languages for immigrant children whose first language is neither English nor French; providing education in French to Francophone students; extended and immersion French programs; instruction in a native language as second language; computers; and low class sizes in Grades 1 and 2. Grants are also provided to assist small schools; schools in remote areas; and schools in areas suffering from poor social or economic conditions.

We want fewer, broader categories that would offer greater flexibility and more straightforward accountability. We are interested in how you think such categories might be defined and what kinds of things they should support.

6. Accountability

A good education funding model requires a framework to ensure accountability. Such a framework would inform students, parents, school councils, school boards, taxpayers, and government about how education dollars are allocated and spent. It would help ensure that education funds are focussed on the student and the classroom, not on administration and bureaucracy.

Current accountability measures tend to cover certain specific grants, and the information is generally shared by government and school boards. Another approach is to develop a comprehensive method of reporting that allows comparison of how different boards spend education funds.

An example of this approach is presented on page 6 for your comment. We would like to know whether you would find it useful if information were gathered for every board and published annually, with average provincial data and averages for communities of a similar size.

7. Conclusion

Ontario's new education funding model will focus on directing as many dollars as possible to the student and the classroom while being more responsive to communities throughout the province. The new model will also be more accountable, efficient and easier to administer.

Your input can help ensure that the new model will help different communities meet the different challenges they face in providing high quality education.

- Elementary
- Secondary
- Elementary
- Secondary
- Elementary
- Secondary
- Board of Trustees
- School Board Administration


In addressing the issue of special circumstances, the government is interested in your answers to the following questions. Please feel free to include additional material if the space provided is insufficient.

Responses may be mailed to: Meeting Students' Needs, Ministry of Education and Training, 24th Floor, Mowat Block, 900 Bay Street, Toronto ON M7A 1L2; faxed to: (416) 325-6370; or e-mailed to:

Please respond by October 7, 1996.

  1. What are the special circumstances that you believe exist in your community that impact on the costs of delivering education?
  2. How can we measure these circumstances?
  3. What element could be used in a funding model to reflect them?
  4. What are the specific costs incurred because of your special circumstances over the past five years or so? Please give examples as appropriate.
  5. What do you think should be the broad categories for such funding and what programs should be included under each?
  6. In addition to the accountability report referred to earlier in this paper, what other kinds of local accountability would you propose?
  7. What proposals would you have to streamline the way specific programs are funded?