Today marked the conclusion of the Toronto Star's two-day coverage on school-generated funds. Monday's paper featured two articles (including a front-pager!) and Tuesday we got one article in the GT section. The online component (a little disorganized in the ParentCentral.ca layout) also featured downloadable PDF files with the school-by-school details for the Toronto, Toronto Catholic, Dufferin-Peel Catholic and Peel DSBs. That's less than the seven boards the Star said complied with freedom-of-information requests for this data, although I can't seem to find the other three online.
The school-by-school data is handily broken out into "school-based" and "school council" numbers, which helps my continual pet peeve. School boards are only obligated -- right now -- to report these school-based revenues as one figure, leading to the wide assumption all that money fundraising is destined for the classroom. Breaking out council-based funds from school-generated funds will help make the distinction, but to me it was only clear in downloading the PDFs, not in the articles themselves.
In Star fashion, the paper threw its education reporter, a Queen's Park reporter, a third reporter and a researcher on this two-day series. While I appreciated the coverage did on several occasions make the distinction between the kinds of money that flow through these schools, that was the only thing I felt this series did differently than most of the reporting on this in the past. For example, several of the top-dollar schools have International Baccalaureate programs that come with exam fees that students must pay. So is highlighting that meant to suggest those dollars are a reasonable part of the school total? Or is it meant to suggest education grants should cover these exam fees? I wasn't left with a decisive feeling either way (though my personal opinion is the status quo on these fees is perfectly acceptable).
We had a volley of coverage on school-generated funding in the fall (which may have prompted the FOI requests behind this Star coverage), but the Star is far from the first to tackle this question. Even the minister's references to guidelines and a solution from the Tuesday article wasn't prompted by the Star, but rather coverage from last school year.
The London Free Press' "Classroom Cash" series, completed by tag-team education reporters Kelly Pedro and Jennifer O'Brien, made the mold on this issue and was the first to do an in-depth interview with the minister and the first to report on the pending fundraising guidelines-- the draft of which was posted online in June 2010.
While the readership of the Star is higher than the Free Press and its impact rating definitely higher in Liberal Ontario government, I do hope the newspaper doesn't take all the credit for any changes heading our way on this issue.
Lastly, to the issue itself, regular readers here already know what my thoughts on school-generated revenues are. We can get outraged until we're purple in the face, but we can also just say no. Parents want to provide the best for their kids-- understandable! Who would want less? Is throwing money around the best way to do it? Hardly.