Small schools in small Ontario communities don’t need to close
Up to 37 communities in rural and small-town Ontario may lose their local schools because the government’s current education funding model does not support the ongoing viability of small schools.
Parents, students and community leaders know that when school buildings are shuttered or sold, and students spend long hours each day being bussed to large population centres, non-urban areas become less attractive to families and businesses. Schools remain hubs of activity and life that, in some cases, have marked our countryside for decades.
Unfortunately, so far the only solution to school closures involves loud calls for more funding. And more broadly, we’re asked to believe that small schools can no longer exist in rural or small population centres.
But that’s not the case. For proof, we need only to look at Ontario’s 954 independent schools.
Consider first that independent schools—schools that operate outside of the public systems—have a strong presence in rural areas and small towns. A quarter of Ontario’s independent schools are located in rural areas and, in fact, three of every 10 are in a rural location or area with fewer than 30,000 citizens.
Perhaps even more disconcerting in the school closure discussion is the widespread notion that schools must be large to keep their doors open. Again, independent schools in Ontario demonstrate that large size is not the only way forward. Almost half of Ontario’s non-government schools (49.3 per cent) have fewer than 50 students and more than a quarter (28.7 per cent) has between 50 and 149 students.
Clearly if more than three of every four independent schools in Ontario can exist with fewer than 150 students, small schools are viable. We should reject calls for shuttering small schools and shipping students out.
It’s not as though independent schools in Ontario face no hurdles. In all the other non-Atlantic provinces, independent schools receive some government funding. In Quebec and Alberta, the government offers independent schools up to 60 or 70 per cent of the allotment for operational expenses received by public school. In Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, funding in most cases is 50 per cent.
Again, if hundreds of small rural independent schools in Ontario can exist without receiving any government funding, surely alternative solutions are available for the 37 communities facing for sale signs or shutters on their small schools.
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