Trustees call for changes in special ed funding

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  • December 5, 2008
TORONTO - The underfunding of programs for special education and high needs students as well as “short-lived” declining enrolment grants are serious concerns for many Catholic school boards, says the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association.

In a Nov. 18 financial brief to Ontario Education Minister Kathleen Wynne, the association said while special education grants total almost $2.1 billion, many school boards “continue to express serious concerns about the ongoing gap between the cost of current programs and services for students and special needs and current funding levels.”

The trustees’ association said the gap between elementary and high school funding for special education “has not been closed sufficiently to recognize the cost of ongoing services that must be provided to very high needs students throughout their academic career.”

OCSTA is calling for a separate special education grant and increased funding for high needs students.

On the issue of declining enrolment, the OCSTA said in its submission to Wynne that while many school boards are seeing a decline in student enrolment in elementary schools, they have seen either no changes or an increase in the number of high school students. According to the province’s educational funding formula, fewer students means fewer dollars for boards. To correct the different trends in enrolment, OCSTA is recommending the funding formula for school boards be adjusted to calculate separately for elementary and high schools. Also, OCSTA president Paula Peroni said the association is recommending an extension of the declining enrolment grant from three years to four.

Meanwhile, the association met with the province’s Declining Enrolment Working Group at the end of October where the issue of shared public school space between Catholic and public school students was discussed. Peroni said any proposals for a shared public-Catholic school facility must ensure the “denominational right of Catholic schools” and the preservation of the Catholic identity and character.

Liberal MPP Dave Levac, chair of the working group, told The Catholic Register the group is considering ways of encouraging co-operation within Ontario’s publicly funded school system which could include sharing facilities and programs. Levac, a former teacher and principal in Brantford, Ont., cited an example between Notre Dame Catholic School and Branlyn Community School in that city 15 years ago which was constructed as one unit, although students were in separate classes. A community service group also rented the space, he said.

A final report from the group is expected at the end of December.

In its financial brief, the OCSTA said the elimination of the Local Priorities Allocation has been problematic for Catholic school boards because part of this grant was used Catholic programs such as student retreats, chaplains and staff faith formation. Peroni said the association is recommending this funding be reinstated or that extended funding for declining enrolment be used to cover the shortfall.

OCSTA has also recommended a provincial advisory committee to monitor the impact of the funding formula and provide on-going advice to the education minister on funding issues.

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