We all pay for separate schools



There is a perception by some that local school taxes pay for the school system; that the taxes collected from Roman Catholic school supporters pay for the Roman Catholic separate school system; that both public schools and separate schools have their own tax base for funding their own operations.  NO.  This is not the case today, and never has been.

I will explain.  The authority for what follows is comprised of Ministry of Education documents, phone calls to my local (Pembroke) city treasurer, calls to my local Public School Board, and a call to the Ministry in Toronto, plus reference to the Ministry web site.

Before 1998, and also at present, local property taxes provided a  portion of the operating budget for school boards, and tax dollars are still  collected for English Public, English Separate, French Public and French  Separate boards, but the mill rates are now the same for all four sectors (no  longer set by the school boards).

Mill rates are now the same for all four school systems in one municipality, but change across the province depending on the municipality.  Local tax dollars collected for educational purposes are passed on to the appropriate board, and this amount is topped up, if necessary by provincial money so that it meets the amount determined by the Basic Foundation Grant.

Large cities, like Metro Toronto, may collect more in education property taxes than the province allots to the Metro School Board.  This is possibly where some get the idea that each board funds itself through local taxes.  In any case, this would be the exception.

Taxpayers in  rich cities still pay provincial taxes which support grants for all other school  boards in the province that can’t raise the necessary dollars locally.

Local education tax dollars are augmented through substantial provincial grants.  In the early 1990s, public elementary schools received around 35% of their funding from the province while the separate received around 70%.  Public secondary schools received about 30% from the province while the separate secondary received about 60%.

In the years following the extension of public dollars to RC high schools, 1987 to 1993, “The share of capital grants directed to separate boards was approximately 70%…..approximately $1.5 billion.”  (Standing Committee on Public Accounts.)

For 2003/2004 the total provincial allocation for public boards is $10,214,827,228 and for separate boards is $5,014,807,455.  This amounts to $6965.30 for each public school student and $7406.64 for every separate school student and includes all Board expenses.

Why do separate school boards receive more dollars per student?  See “Annual extra cost of RC separate schools”.    This clearly illustrates the fact that fewer the students in a province-wide system, the higher the cost per student than in a larger system.  Economies of scale.

Provincial dollars to provide grants for school boards come from provincial taxpayers who do not have the opportunity to choose which schools their provincial tax dollars are directed toward.  Tax dollars from everyone, including PST revenues, go into a central pot of money from which these public dollars are then disbursed.

Public dollars end up paying a large portion of the costs for Roman Catholic separate schools.

From the web site of the Toronto District School Board: “Public schools are funded through your property taxes collected by the  provincial government and sent back through specific funding formulas to  school boards.”

The Foundation Grant provides every school board with a base level of funding for each student.  School boards receive additional funding through ten special purpose grants, which respond to costs or needs that are specific to some boards and students.

Student-focused funding is a fair approach because every school board receives funding under the same set of rules and because student-focused funding recognizes that different boards have different needs and responds to these differences.

The Foundation Grant supports the components of a classroom education that are required by and generally common to all students.  The Foundation Grant provides the same amount per student to all school boards.

For the 2003–04 school year, $8.11 billion was allocated for the Foundation Grant. This grant provides $3,885 for each elementary student and $4,681 for each secondary student. In addition to the Foundation Grant, all school boards are eligible to receive special purpose grants.

There are ten special purpose grants that provide additional funding to meet students’ different needs and the costs that vary from one school board to another.

Provincial Funding and Property Taxes

    Before student-focused funding, school boards raised revenue through local property taxes.  Each school board could decide whether or not to increase local property taxes and, if so, by how much.  Municipalities collected the taxes on behalf of the school boards.

School boards also received funding from the provincial government.

In 1998, the government changed the way in which property tax revenue supports education.   The government now sets a uniform rate, based on a current-value assessment system, for all residential properties.   Residential property taxes for education were reduced by half province-wide.   The government also sets property tax rates for business properties.

Since 1998, the government has introduced further reductions in residential and business property taxes for education.

Property taxes still support education and municipalities still collect these taxes for the school boards in their communities, but school boards no longer raise additional revenue from local property taxes.

Student-focused funding determines each board’s overall funding allocation. Property tax revenues provide a part of the allocation. The province provides additional funding up to the level set by student- focused funding.

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