Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Private Money for Public Education & National Learning Policy

Two interesting news pieces today:

PUBLICATION: The Ottawa Citizen
DATE: 2006.04.03
BYLINE: Maria Kubacki
SOURCE: The Ottawa Citizen

Private money for public education a controversial move: Ottawa-Carleton school board asks donors to help round out basic education
Frustrated by years of insufficient funding from the provincial government, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board is turning to private money to pay for public education.

The board's new Education Foundation of Ottawa is asking for donations for music, art, outdoor education, and literacy and numeracy projects. The foundation will also help provide children with food or winter clothing in emergency situations.

"Our provincial tax dollars today pay for a basic education," explains a letter sent out this week in advance of the April application deadline for the first round of grants.

"It is not our intent to replace provincial funding; however, we just cannot wait any longer while our children go without."

The foundation will focus particularly on students at risk of failing school.

"I say hats off to them for establishing a foundation to benefit their students," said Ontario Public School Boards' Association president Rick Johnson. "You do what you have to do. Boards have to be more creative these days to make great things happen."

Not everyone agrees. The establishment of foundations to raise money for public education is misguided because it lets the government off the hook, warns Annie Kidder, executive director of People for Education, a group dedicated to preserving public education in Ontario.

"I think it's incredibly worrying and in a way entrenches the notion that public education is a charity."

Ms. Kidder said she understands that the OCDSB and other boards across the province are "desperate," having spent years "robbing from Peter to pay Paul."

But Canadians are already paying for public education through taxes, she said. And relying on philanthropy to fund public education is dangerous because "charities are at the whim of their donors."

She also worries that asking for donations to cover programs considered to be beyond the core curriculum is the first step on a slippery slope. "The line that defines what is core becomes very fuzzy."

As far as she's concerned, music, art, outdoor education, and literacy and numeracy programs should be considered part of a broad-based curriculum.

"I couldn't agree with (Ms. Kidder) more," said Patti Davis, the executive director of the Ottawa-Carleton board's Education Foundation.

Ms. Davis acknowledged that "there is controversy about who should be paying for this." But, she said, "We think the children need our help now."

Ontario Minister of Education Gerard Kennedy said he also supports art, music, outdoor education, literacy and numeracy programs. "Those should be available to all students across the province," he told the Citizen.

But, given that the Ottawa-Carleton board has received a 16-per-cent funding increase over three years, he said, he could not understand why the board would not be able to provide these programs. "Public education is not no-frills education."

Mr. Kennedy said the provincial government's investments in literacy and numeracy has resulted in measurable gains. (The number of Grade 3 and Grade 6 students meeting provincial standards has increased from 54 per cent to 62 per cent in the past two years).

As for the arts, there will be 600 new specialist teachers in Ontario schools this year, some of whom will likely teach art and music, he said.

However, Mr. Kennedy said, he does see a role for charitable foundations to "add enrichment experiences beyond what the essential education provided by the government is."

Money raised by charitable foundations or school councils is not considered part of funding for schools and "cannot be taken into account for budgeting purposes," he said.

The McGuinty government has been "very supportive of education," said Ottawa-Carleton board chairwoman Lynn Graham. But government funding "does not cover all the enhancements that a school board might want to offer in order to engage all our students and maintain a strong public education."

For example, Ms. Graham said, the foundation could help buy French language materials for school libraries.

According to Ms. Davis, the independent foundation also wants to support in-class and extracurricular programs, such as the Artists in the Schools program, and a music and drama program run by music-education specialist Greg MacIntosh of Goyo Productions. Both those programs are currently paid for with money raised by parents in some schools, but are not available in other schools.

"Not every school has a strong fundraising council," said Ms. Davis. "If you're in an area that's not really affluent, it's really hard for some parents to raise money."

Most large school boards in Ontario now have charitable foundations, including the Ottawa-Carleton Catholic School Board, the Toronto District School Board, the Halton District School Board in Burlington, the Limestone District School Board in Kingston, and the Thames Valley District School Board in London.

The mandate of the foundations varies from board to board. Ottawa's Catholic board foundation, for instance, was created strictly for "the alleviation of poverty in our schools," said the board's director of education, James McCracken.

Money raised primarily through staff payroll deductions and through the annual play -- about $200,000 per year -- goes toward funding summer camps for "kids whose parents could never afford to send them to camp," as well as tutoring and mentoring programs for needy children. There's also an emergency response fund to pay for food, clothing, medicine and other necessities, such as eyeglasses and hearing aids.

But other boards raise funds for "enhancements." The Limestone Education Foundation in Kingston, for instance, raised $400,000 last year, which was used to create "a margin of excellence," according to managing director Phil Perrin. The money paid for extra books and math materials, and funded special initiatives such as a photojournalism project for Grade 6 students.

Although the Ottawa-Carleton board's foundation was officially launched in October, its fundraising campaign is in the early stages. So far, it has raised an estimated $50,000 to $60,000 through staff donations to the United Way, which will go toward funding Artists in the Schools and "innovative projects" that enhance student success in literacy, numeracy, technology, trades, the arts, outdoor education and other areas. The maximum per grant is $3,000.

For more information, see the foundation's website at www.ocdsb.ca/foundation.


PUBLICATION: The Chronicle-Herald
DATE: 2006.04.04
SOURCE: The Canadian Press

Rae pushes for national learning policy
SYDNEY - Potential federal leadership candidate Bob Rae called for a national policy on learning during a speech in Cape Breton on Monday.

Rae advocates a social safety net which provides improved housing, education and nourishment for children, and which provides adequate child care.

"If we build people who have the brain and capacity to innovate and change and if we give them the opportunity to do that, then we will succeed because the investment will come," he told a university audience in Sydney.

"If we don't get this right in this generation, if we don't get at this in a serious way in terms of learning opportunities for those kids, what kind of a future are we providing for them."

The former Ontario NDP premier recently completed a review of Ontario's post-secondary school system. Last year he was appointed a special adviser to the Canadian minister of public safety on the Air India bombing.

He said he will have to make up his mind soon on whether he will make a bid for the leadership of the federal Liberal party.

'If we build people who have the brain and capacity to innovate and change and if we give them the opportunity to do that, then we will succeed because the investment will come.'


At 1:02 AM, Blogger Andrew_ said...

The Laurier Student's for Literacy blog link you have is the one for the Brantford Campus chapter. There is a similar one at the Waterloo Campus. This past Sunday we had a Teddy Bear picnic! It was pretty fantastic.

At 10:02 AM, Blogger Louise said...

Thanks for stopping by and glad your event went well. I stopped by and looked at the photos. Very cool. If you let me know the link for the other Chapter at Laurier, I`d be happy to add it to the list.




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