Province reduces school fees for September

New rules for instructional and busing fees

(File photo by Jeff Stokoe/Advocate staff)

Back to school costs for parents will drop this fall now that the province has eliminated instructional and bus fees for many students.

But Bev Manning, Red Deer Public School board chair, said the district is still unsure how much parents will end up saving.

“How much it’s actually going to put back into the parents’ pockets, we don’t really have a specific handle on that. It would have been much easier for us if the government said here’s some money to reduce school fees,” Manning said.

The 2017 provincial budget included $54 million for the 2017-18 school year to reduce school fees and Manning was unsure how government will dole it out.

Under the new regulations school boards can no longer charge for textbooks, workbooks, printing, photocopying and paper as well as bus fees for students living 2.4 km or more from their designated school.

She said the district recently revamped high school fees so every student paid the same $140 fee which covered more than just instructional fees. It included things like school buses and student leadership activities.

The province said fees that remain must be connected to a specific good or service. Ministerial approval is now required for fees increasing more than five per cent year over year.

Bus fees will be eliminated for special needs students and kindergarten students travelling home during the noon hour.

Students will still be charged busing fees if they live less than 2.4 km from their designated school or if they are enrolled in a school other than their designated school. Students who live 2.4 km or more from their designated school and take municipal transit will only pay the difference between the provincial transportation funding and the cost of a municipal transit pass.

Manning said there was no opportunity for input from school jurisdictions into the new regulations, but the district consistently asked the former government and the current government to increase the per pupil funding instead so school jurisdictions can decide how to best reduce fees.

“What we really want (the province) to do is respect our local autonomy and our ability to make those decisions based on what our community expects out of their public school system.

“Locally elected school boards are the best people to make these kinds of decisions. We talk to our community. We live in this community. They are our neighbours,” Manning said.

Guy Pelletier, Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools board chair, said the fee changes won’t really impact the division.

“Basically it means we’re collecting from the government instead of the families in the division. It’s certainly a big benefit for parents,” Pelletier said.

He said basic fees amount to $630,000 for Red Deer Catholic. It’s expected the new fee funding will be ongoing, but divisions and trustees should watch to make sure it’s not eliminated in the future.

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