Toronto·Analysis

Ford government's claim of spending '$1.2B more' on education doesn't add up

As some two million Ontario students miss school amid a province-wide strike by four teachers unions, Premier Doug Ford pushes back against the accusation his government is cutting education spending.

Every school in Ontario's system closed Friday as all teachers' unions strike

Teachers from the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board on strike outside Hopewell Avenue Public School. The Doug Ford government's claim it is spending $1.2 billion more on education doesn't stand up to scrutiny. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Ontario Premier Doug Ford's oft-repeated statement that his government is spending $1.2 billion more on education this year than last year doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

The spending claim is in the spotlight as a province-wide strike by four teachers' unions puts some two million Ontario students out of class on Friday. 

"We've increased education by $1.2 billion," Ford said in question period on Wednesday. "I know math is not the NDP's strength, or the Liberals', but it's $1.2 billion, more than any government in the history of Ontario." 

Ford's Education Minister Stephen Lecce has made the same claim numerous times since the government issued its November fiscal update, which added $186 million to the education ministry's budget.

  • "This year, we're on track to spend $1.2 billion more than we did last year," Lecce said on Dec. 3.
  • "Under this premier's leadership, we are investing more than $1.2 billion more this year than we did last year," he said on Nov. 25. 
  • "This year we intend to spend $1.2 billion more than we spent last year in the defence and the improvement of public education," Lecce said on Nov. 7.  

WATCH: CBC Toronto's Queen's Park reporter Mike Crawley crunches the numbers

Queen's Park reporter Mike Crawley explains why the Ford government's claim they are spending $1.2 billion more on education this year than last year doesn't add up. 1:58

Here are the basics of the government's math:

  • $29.97 billion: the Ministry of Education's base budget for 2019-20, stated in the government's latest fiscal document, the fall economic statement. 
  • $28.75 billion: the Ministry of Education's actual base spending for 2018-19, found in the government's expense sheet for the year, the public accounts.

That's a $1.2 billion difference on the face of it. But when you dig a little deeper into the spending, and compare apples to apples, it becomes apparent that the Ford government is not telling the whole truth. The bulk of that $1.2 billion extra is not destined for schools and classrooms. 

A key reason for the discrepancy is that the Education Ministry's overall budget also includes child-care programs. Nearly half of the $1.2 billion difference is accounted for by increased spending on child care, particularly $390 million budgeted for a new child-care tax credit.

CBC Toronto will bring you special live coverage of the teachers' strike action at Queen's Park starting at 12 p.m. ET. You can stream the special on the CBC News app, cbc.ca/toronto and on CBC Gem.

(CBC)

Two thirds of the additional $186 million announced for the ministry's budget in November is allocated "to help municipal partners provide child-care programs."  

To find out just what the government is actually spending on the school system, you have to look beyond the Education Ministry's bottom line into the detailed budget documents. This means setting aside the $2.2 billion in child-care spending, as well as far smaller amounts on ministry administration and TVO. 

Ford has said his government has increased education funding 'more than any government in the history of Ontario.' (Michael Wilson/CBC)

The real amount spent on schools is found in those documents, called the expenditure estimates, under one line labelled, "Elementary and secondary education program: Policy and program delivery."

  • The amount budgeted in 2018-19 for this program was $25.029 billion.
  • The amount budgeted for 2019-20 (including $64 million added last fall): $25.163 billion.
  • The difference: about $133 million, far less than the $1.2 billion claimed by the Progressive  Conservatives. 

Another way of comparing school spending is to look at the province's annual "grants for student needs," which is the funding the ministry provides to school boards. The amount in 2019-20 is $24.66 billion, while the amount the previous year was $24.53 billion, an increase of about $130 million, or 0.5 per cent. 

When you factor in enrolment growth, the amount spent per student this year is actually down from the previous year. The per-pupil grant is $12,246, down from $12,300 in the 2018-19 school year. 

Boards across the province have cancelled classes on Friday, as teachers take part in an Ontario-wide one-day strike. (Raphael Tremblay/CBC)

Asked repeatedly on Thursday how much of the $1.2 billion extra is actually being spent in schools, Lecce did not give a direct answer. 

"We want to see more money being spent in schools," Lecce responded. "When 80 cents of the dollar in the public education system goes to compensation, it makes the case that we want to see more investment in the priorities of working people, which I would argue is mental health, STEM education and math." 

Asked a second time about how much extra spending is going to schools, Lecce said the government is "on track" to spend $1.2 billion more and added "more particulars will be found in the public accounts on that."

"It's a shell game," said NDP education critic Marit Stiles.

"For the minister to try to present this as if he's somehow increasing funding by $1.2 billion, I think he is intentionally misleading Ontarians." 

About the Author

Mike Crawley

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Mike Crawley is provincial affairs reporter in Ontario for CBC News. He has won awards for his reporting on the eHealth spending scandal and flaws in Ontario's welfare-payment computer system. Before joining the CBC in 2005, Mike filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist and worked as a newspaper reporter in B.C.

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