Local governments support call for increased rural education funding and process changes

CORNWALL – A call to increase provincial funding for rural and northern schools received a boost after local municipal councils signed on board.

SDG Counties councillors passed a resolution at their June 20 meeting calling on the Ontario government to adopt three items from the Community Schools Alliance Action Plan.

The CSA is a provincial rural education advocacy group comprised of members from many municipal governments in Ontario – all which were affected by school closure action prior to the province-wide school closure moratorium implemented in late-June 2017. That moratorium continues but is expected to be lifted at some point before 2026.

Two of the three points from the CSA deal with the provincial Rural and Northern Education Fund. That fund was created by the Ministry of Education during the Wynne government to support select schools in the province that see per-pupil funding challenges due to enrolment, and additional costs due to the geographic location of schools.

In 2021-22, the RNEF was $21.6 million. The Upper Canada District School Board received about $1.5 million and the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario received about $750,000. Over 110 school facilities between the two boards are eligible for RNEF funding, which works out to about $28,000 per school. Facilities include most schools for both boards not located in Brockville or Cornwall.

Across the province, nearly one quarter (1,179) of the province’s 4,800 publicly-funded schools qualify for RNEF funding. The CSA advocates for the RNEF to increase to $50 million per year.

“It works out to about $18,000 per school,” said Councillor Stephanie Jaworski (South Glengarry) at the SDG meeting. “It’s not a huge amount of funding when you do the math.”

The CSA Action plan also calls for the current provincial school closure moratorium to be extended for any school currently receiving RNEF funds until the education funding formula is reviewed.

Jaworski explained that the current funding formula is a one-size, fits-all model.

“It doesn’t really meet the needs of rural schools,” she said. “And when these moratoriums are lifted, it’s typically the rural schools that are impacted.”

The group also wants a seat at the table, along with other community groups, with school boards in developing any accommodation review templates. Those templates guide the review and possible closure process if enacted by a school board.

SDG Council supported the motion, as did the Township of South Glengarry and the Municipality of South Dundas at subsequent council meetings on June 20 and June 27 respectively.

Both municipalities saw extensive school closure and consolidation plans drafted by the UCDSB during its 2016-17 accommodation review. At the end of that process, South Glengarry saw one underused elementary school closed, while all three schools considered in South Dundas were removed from the closure list.

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