Good news for families throughout the province, the Alberta Government has signed a new bill into law about regulating school fees.
Bill 1, An Act to Reduce School Fees, was signed into law on June 5 and will eliminate school fees, bus charges for many students, and limits fee increases by school boards.
The act makes it so school boards can no longer charge students and parents for textbooks, workbooks, printing, photocopying and paper – which is what the school fees originally went toward.
Wolf Creek School Division Superintendent Jayson Lovell believes the burden on families and parents will be lessened with this particular change by the government.
“Parents will no longer be charged for instructional materials like paper, photocopying or textbooks” Lovell explained in a recent phone interview with the Eckville Echo.
Minister of Education David Eggen said school fees have been unregulated in Alberta for too long. The new law will work for the students and families of the province, according to Eggen.
“Our government is reducing school fees, as we work to protect and improve education and make life better for Alberta families,” Eggen said in a press release.
To cover the costs that would be otherwise be missing from the schools, the provincial government will be providing funding to the school divisions. The funding being given to Wolf Creek amounts to $478,000.
“This is the same amount we took in back in September from school fees from all our schools,” said Lovell.
The new bill also requires school boards to gain ministerial approval for any fee increases more than five per cent year-over-year. The addition of needing approval adds a level of consistency the schools in Alberta did not have before when it comes to fees, said Lovell.
“The bill also brings regulations on other fees. This brings clarity and consistency to the fees,” he added.
Lovell says the new bill will bring consistency from school to school, as school fees will all be regulated the same each year.
Also the bill has added the need for new procedures and policies to be in place, not only in fees but in the waiving of them as well.
“It used to be at the principal’s discretion [to have fees waived], now though there will be a clear procedure on what can be done for a family that is in a rough spot and cannot financially handle school fees,” said Lovell. “This will be the same for every school in our division and likely through every division.”
Having school fees, which will still exist to cover other costs at the school board’s discretion for things like field trips and extracurricular activities, regulated will allow parents to know exactly what the fees are for.
“This way parents can know what they are being charged, why and how it affects their kids.”
Busing costs will also be reduced or eliminated for many students in the division. Students who are bused 2.4 kilometres or more to their designated school will no longer be charged bus fees. Busing fees will also be eliminated for both kindergarten students travelling home over noon hour and special needs students.
Also, students who take municipal transit to their designated school and live more than 2.4 kilometres will pay the difference between the provincial funding and a municipal transit pass.
A child being bused to a school other than their designated school, including a “school of choice,” may still have a bus fee applied.
Lovell believes the new bill to ultimately be a positive change for the school systems in Alberta, but said it came into effect at an awkward time.
“The timing is a challenge. We will have a tight turnaround to have everything in place for September,” he said.
Despite the challenges the new bill presents in having it in place by the start of the new term in the fall, Lovell says the school board will adhere to the new changes.
More information about Bill 1 can be found at www.education.alberta.ca/bill-1-an-act-to-reduce-school-fees.