Imagine a school in Ontario where parents are involved with improving student achievement and helping to keep the education system accountable. According to rules instigated by the province in 2000, this is the mandate of every School Council. Yet there are few examples of School Councils that are living up to their roles. Instead, School Councils are busy fundraising or simply gathering a few times during the school year to get updates from their Principals.
In terms of the ‘accountability’ role, most Ontarians have no idea how much of their money is being spent on K-12 education ($24 Billion). We hear constant bickering of cutbacks, inequality and lack of resources for schools. The reality is that education spending in Ontario has gone up significantly in the past ten years while student enrollment has gone down. Between 2004 and 2014, spending per student increased 25% after accounting for inflation.
In Peel Region, the Peel District School Board operates on a $1.8-Billion annual operating budget. For comparison, the combined operating budgets for Mississauga and Brampton is $1.2-Billion. Yet cities are managed by elected Councillors who are paid a full-time salary while school boards are managed by elected Trustees who are paid a part-time honorarium. Trustees have limited resources to interact with School Councils and are forced to rely on board staff and Principals to do the heavy lifting.
The province mandates that every publicly funded K-12 school form a School Council at the beginning of every school year. The Council consists of mostly parents and the school’s Principal. In theory, the guidelines provided by the Ministry for how School Councils should function are reasonable and sensible. For example, the Principal only takes advice from the School Council and does not report to the council. In practice however, the Principal has little motivation to work closely with their School Council. Principals have enough to deal with on a day to day basis managing their teaching staff and school.
School Councils are not working in Ontario. Where is the data that says otherwise? This should come as no surprise considering that our K-12 education system is designed to prepare our kids for yesterday’s jobs, not tomorrow’s careers. Recently, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) released a world-wide ranking of Financial Literacy with Canadians students ranking 3rd. Government leaders proudly proclaimed success yet does anyone believe we are adequately preparing our students for real-world financial matters. In fact, Canadians have the highest household debt of any G7 country while the Big Five Canadian banks continue to earn massive profits. The system is clearly maintaining the status quo, with only minor adjustments over long periods of time.
School Councils have the potential to do much more in engaging all parents in their child’s education. The small number of parents who diligently show up for meetings need to be supported to engage all parents in the school community. The measly $1,000 grant that School Councils must apply for annually to support their activities pales in comparison to school budgets. If the province was serious about wanting parents engaged in their child’s education and making the system accountable, they would invest in School Councils and give parents the voice they deserve.