Rising Fees, Rising Inequity

This past week two of Alberta’s largest school boards voted yet again to increase fees around transportation and noon supervision. School boards have found a bottomless well for filling funding gaps, parents. Since 2011 the Calgary Board of Education(CBE) has increased school fees steadily, into the thousands for some families. In 2012 then parent Trina Hurdman  appealed to the minister of education Jeff Johnson that fees around noon supervision contravened the school act. http://www.trinahurdman.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Province-to-Review-School-Fees.pdf

On May 22, 2018 Trina Hurdman Chair of the board of trustees of the CBE voted in favor of raising both transportation and noon supervision fees for the fifth year since being elected trustee. Voting this year to increase noon supervision fees by up to 3.9 percent and transportation fees by 4.5 percent.

In Edmonton, despite efforts by Trustee Michael Janz to eliminate school fees entirely, the motion was withdrawn, and trustees instead voted in favor of raising transportation fees 5% over the next four years.

Again recognizing that where the Alberta government is failing to provide adequate financial resources school boards can and will continue to fill funding gaps by tapping into parents pockets. This continuing reliance on fees is concerning on many levels for Albertans. SOS Alberta will continue to stand against fees that are a barrier to accessing public education for the following reasons:

  1. School fees are effectively a user tax that disproportionately and an unequally affect families and even more so families living in poverty. School fees, despite Bill 1(An Act to Reduce School Fees) have only increased over the years.
  2. When school boards use fees to fill funding gaps they absolve the provincial government of their responsibilities to adequately fund public education. When families fill funding gaps by paying fees and fundraising the wheels of education continue turning with the government and public falsely left with the impression that things are running smoothly. But Alberta parents are disproportionately carrying the burden of education costs that the government is failing to meet, and they are left with few options. Parents hands are tied by the need (indeed the legal requirement for kids to go to school), to get children to school, and with no option but to have kids stay for lunch. There is effectively no choice but to pay whatever fees the school board has declared.
  3. While the government congratulates itself for pouring millions into education, funding for growth, extending one time funding grants, and obligating parents to make up the funding shortfalls, $278 million of public dollars continues to fund private schools. This is a clear indication that the funding model is broken. Support Our Students Alberta will continue to advocate for a full review of the funding model. Establishing a funding model where parents are not required to fill funding gaps created by a government underfunding public education.
  4. All of this inequity in fees are symptoms of a public system built on competition and marketization. Inadequate funding for decades in the public system has left schools and school boards vying for funding. Boutique schools, charter schools and private schools all dipping into the same government purse while attempting to provide service for their students by having to outdo the school next-door. This has led to a labyrinth of systems where children travel long routes to schools and are left with no option but to stay at school for lunch and then are charged for this perceived privilege. The fact of the matter is since 2015 families and parents have seen little respite from the financial burden of sending their children to public schools. It is time to review the funding model.
  5. At a time when we should be looking for efficiencies to maximize the funding we have, collecting spare change from thousand of different sources (families) must undoubtedly be the most inefficient way of funding a primary public service such as education. Fees generate millions of dollars in ‘gap funding,’ and the administration and collection of these fees represents a huge inefficiency for schools boards such as EPSB and CBE. Certainly, chasing after parents for fees has time and time again lead to school boards resorting to collection agencies to recuperate the funds.

Once upon a time an Education Minister in Alberta said: “Every child is entitled to attend school and get an education without charge”. That was Dave Hancock in 2011.

On May 24, 2018 current Education Minister David Eggen said “ You do see school fees increasing from time to time, that’s normal,”.  We disagree fundamentally with Minister Eggen, it is not normal. What we are seeing is the slow, sanctioned creep of privatization in our public institution of public education.

SOS Alberta would like to see a long term commitment by this government to redefine public education, in the same way Dave Hancock once did. As free and without barriers.

We would also like to see school boards push the government to do this by taking bold, maybe even symbolic steps to eliminating fees. Someone has to move the needle. Our suggestions, while challenging, include:

  • Motion a full review of the funding model for Alberta Education that clearly is not meeting the needs of students across Alberta.
  • Petitioning Alberta government to redirect the 278 million dollars to subsidize private schools to reduce school fees for the 94% of kids who attend public schools.
  • Revisist legislation that has charter schools leasing public school board facilities for $1/year. This is lost revenue for public school boards like the CBE that lease out several CBE owned buildings to charter schools.
  • Consider a stance on a provincial sales tax so that the user tax of school fees do not continue to disproportionately affect families.
  • Use reserves, acknowledging that depleting reserves would be a bold statement forcing a discussion around the issue, while acknowledging that yearly funds should be used to benefit students in that year, and thereby highlighting whether or not the funds from Alberta Education are sufficient.
  • Stand in solidarity with the ongoing work parents do (IF their school is privileged enough to have a parent council) by attending fundraising events such as casinos, bake sales and cheque writing campaigns. We would love to see Trustees participate in these events to highlight how fundraising has impacted public education.

In our 10 Strategies to Achieve Equitable Public Education we state:

  • #3. Eliminate ALL barriers including all school-related fees (including, but not limited to, instructional materials, bussing, lunch supervision) and application procedures.
  • #10. Recognize that public education is a public responsibility not a consumer good.  Its quality and accessibility should be equitable across the province.

It’s time to acknowledge that no child should have to access finances or waivers to simply get to their school, less so for the privilege of eating their lunch on the hallway or gym floor. While we recognize our solutions are bold, we are asking school boards to think outside the box.

We are asking school boards to defend public education. We are asking schools boards to stand in solidarity with children who can’t afford fees, and parents who continue to fundraise for basic resources. We are asking schools boards to stop taking the path of least resistance, which is to increase school fees year over year.  Parents are currently a captive audience with no recourse but to accept a government sanctioned increase of up to 5% every year.

We are asking public education to be redefined in this province and as long as school boards and the Alberta government sanctions the use of a user tax to fill funding gaps SOS AB will continue to fight this creeping privatization of our public institution.


Perspectives on GSAs – Do Better, Be Better

This letter was submitted to the North Bay Nugget by David Killawee in North Bay, ON.

In reference to article “Alberta conservatives vote to end carbon tax, tell parents if child joins GSA”, Monday 07-May-2018, North Bay Nugget.

This letter will be a little long winded so please bear with me. It does come to a point. Many people in this country don’t seem to realize how fortunate we are in this country that independence was gained politically, and that our ancestors did’nt have to go to war against a European power.  Our military personel didn’t gain us our freedoms, but, with the exception of serious crimes against First Nations people, they have defended them.  Thanks to them, and militaries from many countries, no Swastika, Rising Sun, or Hammer and Sickle has flown in the wind atop Parliament Hill.

It’s a mis-conception that during World War 2, a war born of hate and bigotry (and the fear, cowardice, and ignorance that spawn them) and greed, that our military fought to make the world a better place.  That’s at best only partially correct.  The reality is that they mainly fought to keep the world from getting worse, but it’s the nature of war that they could only partially succeed.  “Better” had to wait until the war was over.  They defended us, but the duty to make things better was, and still is, on all of us.  And still we’ve only partially succeeded.  We’ve also slid down into worse with forcing Native children into Residential Schools, Quebec’s language laws, Minimum Mandatory Sentencing, and many other ways.

Now this week of all weeks, this week when we remember those who fought, suffered, and especially those who died, to stop monsters and give us the chance to do better we find yet another group trying to make things worse.

As stated in the article 57% of the UPC ( United Conservative Party) convention delegates voted in favour of having school staff informing parents if their children join certain clubs including GSAs (Gay Straight Alliance), or similar clubs effectively outing these kids.

Regardless of the terms that these delegates use, they’re trying to get teachers to be complicit in their bigotry, and worse, dump the responsibility of putting some of these kids in danger on teachers who would have no recourse but to use a version of “I was just following orders” (that would be the cowardice I mentioned earlier).

This next part of the lettter is directed to the delegates in question.  Delegates who would put these kids at risk from potentially abusive, or situationaly dangerous parents.  Neither you, sitting MPPs, or anyone else have any authority to put children in harms way.  You are not generals who can order soldiers into combat, nor police captains who can send officers into potential firefights.  Anyone, including you, who tries to get this into law or school policy is directly responsible for any harm suffered by these kids, even if the student is over 18, along with whoever does the actual reporting to parents, and is subject to prosecution.  Just putting this into law or policy can endanger some kids and therefore is the crime, so you cannot distance or shield yourselves from prosecution, nor can you claim ignorance of the risk you would be putting some of these kids at.  I’m actually wondering if the 57% can be prosecuted now.  Now I understand that it’s unlikely that some obscure letter in a local Ontario newspaper will have much impact, so I want you to understand that published or not, this letter is also going to the RCMP, Alberta Provincial Police, Ministry of Education, as many Alberta school boards as possible… You get the picture.  I know that there are limits to what I can do to make the world better, but I can do my part to protect these kids from you.

To any students feeling pressured, don’t give up, or give in.  These delegates are making use of fear, intimidation and threat, these are terrorist tactics, it makes them weak not you.  The only power they have is what you give them, so give them nothing.  You win by living on your own terms not their’s.

Do better, be better, honour and remember those who gave us the opportunity and responsibility to make it happen

David Killawee

North Bay, ON