Wednesday, 23 March 2016 13:39

Eliminating school fees not as easy as it sounds

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Last week in Alberta, two main dailies in the province carried stories that the Alberta NDP government was likely not going to be making good on its election promise to reduce school fees.

In the spring of 2015, one of the NDP’s carrots was that they would spend $45 million to make it easier for parents who had to pay school fees and for noon-hour supervision.
They ended up getting elected, although not likely because of that promise alone or any of their election platform.
Some school divisions in the province have decided to eliminate the fees themselves in anticipation of the NDP making good on this election promise or nudging them toward approving some funding in the upcoming spring budget announcements.
Can anyone really blame the provincial government for hesitating on spending an additional $45 million to fulfill this commitment in these trying economic times?
Not long after getting elected, world oil prices continued their downward trend and the Alberta economy started to tank. No, the economic slide and decreased revenues in the government’s coffers isn’t because the NDP was elected to power, as so many Conservative-leaning Albertans would have others believe. This has been years, if not decades in the making, as previous governments chose spending oil and gas revenues over a methodical savings plan and continuing to pursue a climate heavily reliant on the oil and gas industry.
School board trustees — who themselves understand the battle for every dollar — should never have decided to hedge their bets and eliminate some school fees on a promise yet to be fulfilled.
Schools generate a tremendous amount of money from fees. That’s one of the challenges faced by the provincial government. It’s not as simple as just eliminating all fees and forking over the cash.
According to an Edmonton Journal story about the fees, when Education Minister David Eggen asked the school boards to report the details of the fees they are collecting, provincial officials discovered discrepancies in how heavily school boards are relying upon those funds.
“Provincial schools collected $250 million in mandatory and optional school fees in fall 2015, according to education ministry data.”
That is a lot of money to replace if every school board dropped all its fees — way more than the $45 million promised.
What provincial officials need to do, is gain a better understanding of just what kinds of fees are being paid for by parents that are most onerous and also really should be paid for using public dollars. Let’s not be naive here: all money put into the Alberta education system is taxpayers’ money, so let’s make sure we’re not asking parents for any more extra money than is necessary. Should parents pay extra for school field trips, and CTS courses such as welding or mechanics? Probably. Should parents pay extra for lunch supervision or textbooks required for courses? Probably not.
There are some school divisions that have already taken the initiative to remove school fees for items such as textbooks, and it wasn’t because of an NDP promise.
These school divisions took the proactive step to do so, because it was important to them to ensure public education is accessible to all. They have had to make adjustments in their budgets to accommodate the fact fees aren’t in place and have been able to do so.
While we recognize that school fees can add up for families, especially with multiple children, there are policies in place at each school to help those parents who struggle paying the yearly tolls. These are usually on a case by case basis.
School board officials need to have some patience in this economic climate, and give the NDP government some time to figure out the best path forward.
Rose Sanchez is assistant managing editor with the Prairie Post. Contact her with your comments about this opinion piece at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor