Though precipitated by a comment here today, my temperature starts to percolate every time people discuss school-generated funds. It was a point I kept raising during the excellent series by London Free Press reporters Kelly Pedro (pre-leave) and Jennifer O'Brien. With last week's release of a two-page People for Education report, I am again smacking my head against the table at how frequently and often "school-generated funds" are misinterpreted.
School-generated funds is a creation of the current provincial government. When it decided to implement the public sector accounting board (pee-sab, as it's not-so-affectionately called), it told school boards they would have to begin accounting for all the money that flows through their hands, regardless of where it comes from. That created the requirement for school boards to report, as part of their annual audits, their "school-generated funds" as a one-line item. Over the years -- prior to it becoming the issue it did this year -- boards have differed on how they report these amounts. Some boards would provide you the copies of the school reports handed to the board, spelling out exactly what share of the funds at each school were collected and spent on specific purposes. So you could, with time, break down how much of the school board's total school-generated funds line was raised and spent on charitable causes, physical enhancements to the building and grounds, program enhancements or field trips.
Others, as many now do, simply report a gross number. That number is picked up, and then based on an incomplete survey of some school councils, is consolidated and reported by PFE and repeated by every media. It even earned the honour of a press release on the first day of school from opposition leader Tim Hudak.
So, what impressions were we left with?
That all school-generated funds are actually fundraising.
That all that money goes to support expansions at schools and equipment needed to teach the Ontario curriculum (most of it doesn't).
That parents are being forced to fork out all this cash when it isn't needed.
That every dollar of school-generated funds comes out of a parent's pocket.
School-generated funds includes every dollar, every penny that goes through the hands of a school. That means the hundreds of thousands of dollars raised for the Terry Fox runs each fall. The countless dollars raised to support third-world schools. The endless amounts that were so quickly raised for catastrophic events around the world such as the southeast Asian tsunami or the Haiti earthquake (I'm sure part of the answer why Pakistani flood relief fundraising is lower than past events is that schools weren't in session when the disaster occurred).
At some schools, it also includes field trips-- the traditional Grade 8 trip to Quebec City, Toronto, Ottawa or some camp some where. Trips to the ROM, to the Science Centre, even to the local pool for swimming lessons (although this last one can be covered by a ministry grant).
At high schools, yes, they include extra-curricular activities-- which to me, by their very nature and name, should not be funded exclusively through government grants. In the cases I've been aware of, the sport with the $50 activity fee sees the kids participate in a weekend tournament with booking, travel and accommodation fees. Or the team members get jerseys or other apparel with their names on it.
These are all things that are an important part of education, but we're not having the conversation as to who should be paying for them. PFE executive director Annie Kidder repeated many of the misconceptions of school-based fundraising in a CBC Radio Here and Now interview I heard on Friday, but she did say the report was written to have that conversation.
Shame on PFE for not actually helping parents understand what school-generated funds are actually about.
And shame on the media out there who didn't bother doing so either.