BC invests $63.8 million in back-to-school affordability fund, advocates wonder if it will go far enough | Pro IQRA News

Pro IQRA News Updates.

BC on Monday announced an investment of nearly $64 million to ease the burden on families sending children back to school amid rising inflation.

The money goes towards meal programs, school supplies and field trip fees.

“This is the first of several measures we will introduce in the coming weeks to help people cope with the cost of living pressures they are currently experiencing,” said BC Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside.

Sixty million dollars will be divided among BC’s 60 school districts, with each district receiving a minimum of $250,000. The province says the school districts will work with parent advisory boards, communities and First Nations to determine funding priorities.

Many teachers welcomed the budget boost, but Jennifer Heighton of the Safe Schools Coalition says school budgets have steadily shrunk over the past 20 years and that’s why the money was needed in the first place.

“It really highlights the underfunding … that’s been happening for the last two decades,” she told CBC. “So it’s going to help, but it’s still a very stretched system.”

Looking at school funding in other parts of Canada, she says BC is holding back.

“Other provinces will spend more of their piece of the pie – their gross domestic product – on education,” Heighton said. “BC… [spends] less percentage on public education compared to other provinces.”

$3.8M for independent schools

In addition to the $60 million for public schools, the province said it is giving another $3.8 million to support families whose children are enrolled in independent schools. The money will be distributed by the Federation of Independent School Associations (FISA).

Shawn Chisholm, FISA’s executive director, says the funding will not go toward tuition and will be used to fund student meals and school supplies, just like the money that flows to public districts.

Education commentator Patti Bacchus questions why the province is investing taxpayer money in both systems.

“Given the financial struggles our public school is having, I would prefer that public funding go only to democratically run public schools,” Bacchus said. ‚ÄúPrivate schools [should] be privately financed.”

Chisholm disagrees.

“They’re all British Columbia families,” Chisholm said, “and some of them have really struggled lately.”

Primary school teacher Jennifer Heighton says she is grateful BC is giving school districts more money to address affordability, but wishes schools were more of a priority in the provincial budget. (Contributed by Jennifer Heighton)

Families in need

At a Monday news conference, Carolyn Broady, president of the British Columbia School Trustees Association, said inflation and the rising cost of living are affecting families across the province.

“We’ve all noticed the increased costs at the grocery store, at the gas pump and in our daily lives,” Brody said.

“The funds announced today will help boards of education … assist families facing food insecurity and families unable to pay for school supplies.”

“These funds will also help students who face financial obstacles to participate in school activities such as graduation events, sports teams and music programs,” she added.

BC says each school district will be free to distribute the funds as they see fit, using the money to either boost the budgets of existing programs or set up new initiatives to address areas of concern.

The government says each district will have to report on how the special fund was used at the end of the year, and whether it had the intended impact of making school activities more affordable for parents and students.

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