Newspaper article The Canadian Press

School Fees Undermine Public Education's Commitment to Equity

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

School Fees Undermine Public Education's Commitment to Equity

Article excerpt

School fees undermine public education's commitment to equity


This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.


Author: Sue Winton, Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, York University, Canada

I'm looking at $85 per child in school fees for the 2019-2020 school year at my sons' public high school. It breaks down like this: $35 to support clubs, teams, councils and athletics; $35 for the yearbook; $10 for an athletics T-shirt; $5 for an agenda.

The amount may not seem that high, but I know that $85 is just the beginning.

Throughout the year, I'll be asked to pay for team uniforms, tournaments, field trips, gym memberships, prom tickets and probably more. These costs are on top of school supplies, like calculators and notebooks.

Public schools across Canada charge fees to cover a wide variety of expenses, and many parents who can afford to pay may be willing to hand over the cash.

You may be wondering: "Aren't Canadian public schools free because they're covered through taxes?" In fact, all Canadian provinces and territories permit public schools to charge fees for services, programs or resources that go beyond what's required for a basic education.

My research shows that policies and dominant ideas about good parenting compel parents to hand their money over to their children's schools, even when they feel feel they shouldn't have to. Parent involvement, school council and school choice policies common in Canada and elsewhere promote the idea that parents are responsible for doing whatever it takes to ensure their children's success in school and, more broadly, in a competitive society.

But not every family can bear the financial costs, so their children may miss out on opportunities that wealthier kids enjoy. Paying school fees may be optional, but enabling parents who pay to get more benefits for their kids undermines Canadian ministries of education's commitments to equality of educational opportunity and inclusion for all.

Cost of ambiguity: Quebec lawsuit

Quebec school boards recently had a wake-up call about the potential costs of charging parents: last summer, the Quebec Superior Court approved a $153.5-million settlement agreement which found that parents whose children were students in 68 Quebec schoolboards had been inappropriately charged fees. The class action lawsuit was launched by a mother from Jonquière.

Through the settlement agreement, parents who had kids in the named boards between 2009 or 2010 and 2017 will see just over $24 per student per school year: so, if a parent had two children in a named board they will receive more than $48 per year for every year the kids attended school in that timeframe.

The lawsuit claimed that fees charged by school boards were in violation of Quebec's Education Act, which guarantees free education to elementary and high school students.

In July, legislators in Quebec clarified what the "right to free educational services" for residents does -- and does not -- include. Notably, after public consultations, Quebec's public schools are still permitted to charge fees for school supplies, special materials, specialized programs and more. …

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