Special Education Funding Fairness in Ontario

By Deani Van Pelt  |  March 25th

This past Thursday, more than 50 Christian and independent school leaders gathered (in person or virtually) at Edvance to discuss the corrections needed to special education funding in this province. That same day, Cardus released the new report, Funding Fairness for Students in Ontario with Special Education Needs.

Because special education funding is unfairly allocated based on the type of school the student attends rather than on the need of the child, Ontario’s $3 billion in Special Education Grants are available only to students in government-run schools. This is especially incoherent since students with special needs receive funding for their special health needs regardless of the type of school they attend.

It is also curious that “under the current arrangements, if a student with special education needs transfers from a public to an independent school, they are not permitted to transfer any equipment and services which had been provided, regardless of individualized custom fitting or design,” according to Funding Fairness. “Without even discussing the waste involved in this, this is discrimination based on school choice which disregards the needs of the child.”

Our discussion on Thursday noted how indefensible it is that in this modern era, our province still discriminates against students living with a disability. Education services for these students should be based on need and not on the school the child attends.

Funding Fairness shows that if Ontario were to provide funding for students with special education needs in independent schools with up to 75% of the level of support government-run schools receive in this area, and if 10% of students in Ontario independent schools required this support, the cost to the provincial treasury would be about $78 million. At a 50% support level, the cost would be $52 million. Given the enormous annual savings of over $1.8 billion that independent schools already provide the province, such funding would appear to be a modest and reasonable response to the inequity of the current situation.

Next steps? We must get the message out that providing equitable access to equipment and services for all students with special education needs is a matter of basic fairness that will enable all Ontario children to learn, thrive, and succeed.

When I spoke in person with our premier, The Honourable Doug Ford, about this issue on Saturday—two  days after more than 50 Christian school leaders gathered to discuss this topic—he agreed that this was an important issue, one that he would ask the Minister of Education to take a close look at. Let’s hold him accountable to having that conversation.

We are encouraging you to get to know your MPPs by inviting them to your school or by visiting their office, and also by having them meet some of your students with special education needs and sharing concerns about this issue. We have a short reference document with key messages that includes a one-page, “At-A-Glance” about the independent school sector. This is a resource with helpful data and tips for anyone speaking to their MPP. Contact us at info@edvance.ca and we’ll share it with you. Let’s ask our MPPs to talk about this issue with our Minister of Education.

We’re looking forward to hearing your stories about getting to know your local Member of Provincial Parliament.