Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge began hearings into Bill 12 by saying that the government has “a responsibility to act quickly” to determine what constitutes a free public education in the province.
Part of Roberge’s incentive to act quickly comes from the desire to avoid another expensive lawsuit.
In 2018, a court ruled that 68 out of 72 Quebec school boards had to reimburse parents $153 million in extra costs that should have been covered by their taxes. Supplies like calculators and photocopies were included in the class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of 900,000 parents.
The Coalition Avenir Québec’s Bill 12 would clarify what additional costs schools can and cannot charge to parents.
School boards say it gets complicated when you take into consideration the specialized programs that public schools use to attract parents.
“Not everything will be free,” said Stephen Burke, chairman of the Central Quebec School Board.
Burke wants school boards to be consulted on the final list of acceptable extra costs. He also says many parents understand that specialized programs like theatre and sports include unique options that will involve some cost.
“It has to be clear, otherwise we could end up with another lawsuit that costs even more, and that would be disastrous,” said Burke.
Parti Québécois education critic Véronique Hivon says the CAQ is too open to allowing exceptions.
“We are concerned about access, and some of those specialized programs cost hundreds or thousands of dollars,” said Hivon outside the hearing chambers.
Hearings are set to continue for the rest of the week.
The CAQ has promised to have a final list of acceptable extra costs by the start of the new school year in September.