Restored funding providing more teachers but not reducing school fees

WATCH ABOVE: The education minister was touting the NDP government’s fulfilled promise to restore funding for enrolment growth, but parents might noticed another unfulfilled promise. Tom Vernon explains.

EDMONTON — On Tuesday, Alberta’s education minister promised the decision to restore $103 million in education funding is going to prove very beneficial as the majority of students head back to school.

David Eggen spent Tuesday highlighting the positive impact the money will have on the province’s education system, including school boards’ ability to hire more teachers, maintain class sizes, and provide support for vulnerable students.

“I am pleased to see that the $103 million is going to support students, teachers and classes. And I am proud of the work our schools and boards do to support those students who need a little extra support,” said Eggen.

Edmonton Catholic Schools has hired an additional 41 teachers, while Edmonton Public Schools has hired 67 more teachers and 51 support staff.

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“Receiving the commitment to funding in the spring has allowed us as a school board to enhance our services and hire staff to meet the needs of our students,” said Debbie Engel, the chair of Edmonton Catholic Schools.

However, school fees will remain the same as students head back to class for the upcoming school year despite the NDP’s promise to cut fees in half, and for some families that means an additional hundreds of dollars.

Fees vary widely across the province. For a standard Grade 7 student in the Calgary Board of Education, there is a mandatory supplies fee of $137. There are also charges for everything from busing to band class.

In the Edmonton Catholic School Division, each school sets its own fees. For an International Baccalaureate Academic Grade 7 student at St. Edmund School, there is a $70 learning resource fee, a $130 general fee and a $150 complimentary course fee, totalling $350.

In Edmonton Public Schools, each school also sets its own fees.

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The NDP government is still committed to cutting school fees, said Eggen, but it won’t happen this school year because the government doesn’t have a handle on the range of fees across the province.

“There’s been such a lack of regulation around school fees for many years that there’s a wide variation in what’s being charged, who’s charging it, and so forth,” said Eggen.

“I’ve instructed all school boards to give me an itemized list of fees that they’re charging. That information is coming to my office now, and we will process something coherent by the end of October/November.”

The Alberta School Board Association supports lowering fees but it can’t be a blanket decision because the fees go towards specific programs. If the fees were cut, the schools would still need to receive funding through another source in order to maintain the programs.