The Alberta NDP provincial government kicked off the month of March by unveiling bill 1, an act to reduce school fees. The reduction of school fees was one of the NDP party’s strongest platform items during the 2015 provincial election, and it’s great, especially being an NDP voter and an education minor, to finally see this issue addressed. This bill is designed to reduce school fees by about twenty five percent, and will eliminate some of the costs that families with children in school have to pay at the start of every year. Bill 1 will affect many Albertan families with children who attend school, and it will use government of Alberta funds to cover the cost of school necessities such as school bus fees, and textbooks.
During the government of Alberta live broadcast, after receiving a question about why the NDP decided to move forward with this bill, Premier Rachel Notley is quoted stating that “families need support, they shouldn’t be paying for this out of their pockets. Everyone should have the same access to a good foundational public education”. Further on in the broadcast a reporter in the crowd posed the question of where the money was going to come from. David Eggen, the Alberta Minister of Education answered that the funds would come from “within the existing government budget”, including the existing education budget for Alberta schools. This seems to indicate that no new tax will be initiated in order to cover the expenses this bill is intended to cover.
This is important because it will cut down on costs for families with children, and will especially help out lower income families, and young families that are just starting out. The average school bus fee for one child in Alberta is about three hundred dollars per year, and this fee adds up immensely from year to year for families with multiple children in school. The beginning of the school year fees are a constant dread for all parents, especially because these fees are unavoidable as all school kids will need textbooks, and many of them take the school bus since most of their parents work full time.
Unfortunately, many Albertan children who live in cities such as Edmonton and Calgary, need to be bussed further than 2.5 kilometers to schools out of their district. This occurs when the school that is closest to them within their district is overfull, so they have to be sent to attend a different school that is further away. Often times this forces families to buy a school bus pass since it is just not practical for parents to drive them when they already have long commutes to work. In these cases it is too far for the children to walk to school, especially young children in the long winter months. Similarly, children who live in rural areas of Alberta also often require bussing to and from school since they live too far away to walk or bike. It is extremely unfair and unjust that some families are charged for bus passes that are a necessity, just because they have lost the postal code lottery.
In addition to this, the government of Alberta is also investing in building many new schools throughout the province, which will hopefully provide more choices for parents who are deciding on where their children will get their education. This will also help deal with the overflowing schools and the thirty student classrooms that are all too common in the larger Albertan cities and suburbs. However, it is uncertain how bill 1 will affect families who choose to homeschool their children. The controversial issue of homeschool funding is one that is frequently brought up by these families to the Alberta government. Homeschooling has always been a fairly common choice among rural families, families with children with disabilities, families with many children, and families who are highly religious.
Bill 1 will alleviate some of the expenses that families face at the beginning of every school year, as these school fees only one of the many things that parents need to pull out their purses for during the fall season. Parents also often need to purchase new clothing for their children at this time, not to mention back to school supplies such as notebooks, binders, and writing utensils. Hopefully the passing of this bill will give Albertan families a leg up at the beginning of the oncoming and future school years.
by Kohan L. Eybergen