Arts education funding unequal across Ontario's schools: report

TORONTO - Students across Ontario have unequal access to arts programing because of inconsistent funding that's often dependent on parent efforts, a lack of space in schools, and fewer qualified arts teachers, a report from an education advocacy group said Tuesday.

People for Education, an independent charitable organization, surveyed 1,200 public schools and crunched government data to arrive at its conclusions about arts program funding and availability across the province.

Students in small and rural schools, schools with higher levels of poverty, and schools with lower levels of parental education, are less likely to have access to the arts in the classroom, the report said.

"There's definitely a very strong relationship between family income, parental education, fundraising and then what the arts budgets are in a school," Annie Kidder, executive director of People for Education, said in an interview. "Those links are what's worrying about what we found in this report."

School arts budgets in Ontario vary widely — ranging from $100,000 to $500 — and depend in part on the ability of parents to fundraise, contributing to the inequity, the report said.

Students in schools with arts budgets of $5,000 or higher will have more opportunity to participate in choir or band, see live art performances or display their art, the report said. And elementary and secondary schools that fundraise are more likely to have arts budgets higher than $5,000, it added.

Access to qualified arts teachers in Ontario is also a problem, the report said, noting only 46 per cent of elementary schools say they have a full or part-time music teacher, below the 58 per cent from 20 years ago.

The report also said 43 per cent of elementary schools have no specialized rooms for arts programming.

The Ministry of Education said the arts play "a significant role" in supporting student achievement and noted that the province recently announced $21 million over three years to support arts education.

"This investment will strengthen opportunities to learn through the arts in dance, drama, music, and visual art inside and outside the classroom," it said in a statement Tuesday.

Kidder said additional regular provincial funding that bolsters the arts would help "equalize" programming for all students, no matter where they go to school.

"There needs to be funding for the arts," she said. "Even if there was some kind of funding at the provincial level so that school boards got a bit of extra funding ... they could make choices about where that should be spent. How do we make sure that all kids, no matter the income of their parents, are able to play in a band or go to a performance?"

The measures of success for students are consistently reading, writing and math scores, Kidder said, pointing out that arts education is sometimes looked at as a "nice-to-have."

She argued arts programming teaches important life skills like the ability collaborate, the value of hard work and builds the capacity in children to learn from their mistakes and take criticism.

"We tend to, at a system level, pay less attention to things like arts education," Kidder said. "Then the outcome of that is that you may at a board level or school level start spending less money on it or even have less time to fit in arts education."


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