The impact of poverty on education for youth living in low-income neighbourhoods in Toronto

Research across multiple disciplines have identified the impact of poverty on the lives youth, including but not limited to, educational achievement, school dropout rates, deviant behavior, wellbeing, and social mobility.

According to Hulchanski’s 2007 report, there is a growing divide between high- and low-income neighborhoods in Toronto— each neighborhood providing different access to physical infrastructures as well as social and community services.

This segregation of Toronto neighborhoods by income status has debilitating consequences for many aspects of the residents’ quality of life, specifically for youth and their access to quality education.

The “funding formula”

In 1997, Ontario developed the funding formula to make education funding more equitable across the province and to provide equal educational opportunities for all students.

Under this legislation, 72 district school boards across Ontario get their operating funds from the Ministry of Education through the annual Grants for Student Needs (GSN), also known as the “funding formula.” 

Generally, all schools receive more or less equal amount of funding tied to their enrollment rate.

The Ministry of Education also provides special fundings and grants for specific priorities, such as the Special Education Grant and the Learning Opportunities Grant. The Learning Opportunities Grant is allocated to help students who are at greater risk of lower academic achievement based on social and economic indicators, such as low household income, low parental education, and recent arrival in Canada.

Residentially designated schools

In Toronto, students that are eligible to attend elementary, middle, senior, junior high or secondary school have the right to and are expected to attend a school that is designated to serve their residential address. The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) offers a tool on their website to identify designated schools for each residential address.

While students have the option to attend schools outside of their designated areas, also known as optional attendance, acceptance at non-residential schools is subject to space availability and program suitability, as well as complex procedures, conditions, and timelines that students have to follow in order to be considered for optional attendance.

These requirements often create barriers for low-income families to access schools located outside of their residential address.

Neighbourhoods and quality of education 

The opportunities offered by schools, such as rich curriculum, high-quality instructors, access to enrichment programs, and diverse peer groups highly influences students’ positive outcomes.

In theory, all schools within TDSB receive equal funding from the Ministry of Education, and as such, we can assume that all students should have equal opportunities to quality education.

However, the quality of education youth living in Toronto receive is highly dependent on the type of neighborhood their schools are located in. Such disparity is evident in the academic achievement gaps across the region.

A Globe and Mail analysis, based on data obtained from the Education Quality and Accountability Office and 2010 income data from Statistics Canada, shows that high-scoring elementary schools are primarily concentrated in high-income areas, whilst in lower-income neighborhoods, a higher percentage of students fail reading, writing and math tests.

Despite special fundings, such as the Learning Opportunities Grant, schools located in low-income neighborhoods continuously fail to offer the right environment required to produce successful students that excel academically. 

So, how do we account for such disparities between the quality of schools despite special provincial funding? Funding from parents.  

The stark contrast in the quality of education across schools is the outcome of underfunding by the Ministry of Education and fundraising disparities among schools.

Parents in high-income neighborhood invest money into their kids’ schools to provide enrichment for their education and compensate for provincial under-funding of school programs.

A 2013 report on Ontario’s publicly funded schools found that high-income schools fundraise five times more per year on average than low-income schools.

The Globe and Mail analysis found that Blythwood Junior Public School, located in a high-income neighborhood, raised almost $700 per student in the 2012-13 academic year, while Thorncliffe Park Public School, located in an area populated with recent immigrants, raised about $45 per student for that period.

Thus, schools in high-income areas are generating thousands of dollars in funding from parents to pay for extracurricular programs and build sports fields that are important for a successful academic environment while schools in poorer areas continue to struggle to pay for basic nutrition programs.


Education is one of the most important elements in attaining social and economic mobility. However, one’s ability to obtain education achievement remains largely confide to their socioeconomic status and socio-geographic location.

I’ve examined Toronto, a city identified by the stark contrast between neighborhoods by income level, to deepen our understanding of the links between poverty, social isolation, and the academic achievement of youth living in socially isolated neighborhoods.

Since education is the means by which to alleviate poverty and achieve social and economic mobility, it remains an important task for policymakers, education professionals, and community agencies to actively dismantle the issue of underfunding, poverty, and inequality in low-income neighbourhoods that, consequently, lead to low-quality education and fewer economic opportunities for our young people. 


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