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Education funding for students with disabilities

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Elementary and Secondary Education

In 1998, the provincial government introduced a new funding formula for Ontario’s publicly-funded elementary and secondary school system.  Under the new system, school boards no longer have the power to generate resources through taxation, and therefore depend on government grants to run the education system.

Throughout the consultation, the Commission heard that the current funding levels provided by the Ministry of Education for special education are inadequate.  Insufficient resources are resulting in delays at many stages of the special education system, misidentification of student needs, and students with disabilities not receiving the accommodations to which they are entitled.  While school boards have a duty to accommodate students with disabilities, the Ministry of Education needs to supply adequate funding to school boards to allow them to provide this accommodation.

The Commission heard that even though the Ministry of Education is in charge of this centralized system of funding, it is the school board that is most frequently considered responsible when students do not receive accommodations, and most often named as the respondent in human rights complaints alleging discrimination on the basis of disability in education.

Post-secondary Education

Funding remains a major issue in ensuring that education is accessible at the post-secondary level. Increases in tuition fees have particular implications for students with disabilities whose educational costs may be significantly higher, and who, in many cases, are unable to hold down a part-time job to ease these costs.  Some scholarships and awards are only available to full-time students, thus having an adverse impact on many students with disabilities who register for part-time studies because of their disabilities.

Although the government has initiated numerous funding programs, the funding structure is quite complex, as there are a multitude of programs, with varying benefits, eligibility requirements, and restrictions.  Students with disabilities have encountered difficulties navigating the complex relationship between different programs, and obtaining the information they need to access these programs.

Confusion also exists with respect to who exactly has responsibility for the cost and provision of accommodation to post-secondary students with disabilities.  Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, service providers are responsible for ensuring that services are available to all students, without discrimination because of disability.  The determination of who the service provider is in a particular situation will be a factual determination, and will vary from case to case.  In most cases, it will be the post-secondary institutions, in some it may also be the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

For further information or copies of the Commission’s Consultation Report entitled The Opportunity to Succeed:  Achieving Barrier-free Access for Students with Disabilities, please visit our Web site at or call 1-800-387-9080 (toll-free), (416) 326-9511 (in Toronto), 1-800-308-5561 (TTY toll-free), (416) 326-0603 (TTY Local).