The province’s move to reduce school fees is a positive step toward equity and accessibility, says Alberta Teachers’ Association president Mark Ramsankar.
The NDP government opened the spring legislature session on Thursday by introducing Bill 1: An Act to Reduce School Fees. The bill aims to eliminate school fees for instructional supplies or materials or for eligible students taking the bus to their designated schools. These two fees cost Alberta families more than $50 million each year and account for approximately 25 per cent of the total fees charged to parents.
The government says the costs will be covered by finding efficiencies through staff attrition and the elimination of outdated or duplicate programs within Alberta Education. Further details are expected in the upcoming provincial budget, which is slated to be released March 16.
“I’d be concerned if the elimination of fees were to place greater financial pressure on classrooms,” Ramsankar said. “I’ll be keeping an eye on the budget to see exactly how these funds will be allocated.”
In 1995, the Association adopted three separate policies urging the government to 1) provide sufficient funding to eliminate the need for student fees, 2) prohibit schools and school boards from using student fees to fund curricular programs and 3) require school authorities receiving public funds to be transparent about their collection and use of school fees.
Ramsankar said those policies are still in place and are still relevant today.
“Public education needs to be adequately funded so that school fees and fundraising are not necessary,” he said. “Teachers believe that the government should prohibit school boards from using fees to fund curricular programs.”
If proclaimed, Bill 1 will result in amendments to the School Act, as well as the creation of a new school fees regulation before the start of the 2017/18 school year. The government says it will engage in further consultation with parents and school boards before creating regulations, which will set a clear definition for instructional supplies or materials.
“Two years ago, our government ran on a platform commitment to reduce the burden of school fees on Alberta families. The introduction of Bill 1 follows through on that commitment,” said Premier Rachel Notley in a news release.
“Our government believes in a publicly funded education system and school fees should not be a barrier to kids getting a good start in life, no matter their circumstances,” said Education Minister David Eggen.