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SCTA says ruling hurts education

The recently enacted school fees ruling is hurting students and teachers according to Sunshine Coast Teachers' Association (SCTA) president Denis Fafard.

The recently enacted school fees ruling is hurting students and teachers according to Sunshine Coast Teachers' Association (SCTA) president Denis Fafard.

Fafard said the ruling, which states a school district cannot charge for any course that provides credits leading to graduation, is leaving many programs underfunded or without funding.

"Elective budgets, once supplemented by fees, now must be stretched to cover all expenses," Fafard said. "And the impact on kids? Students in textiles classes use used patterns and broadcloth. Students in foods classes cook basic meals less often. Students in art classes face dwindling supplies and lack of materials - and the list goes on."

He argues the "low budget" alternatives being offered in place of programs that once required fees are leaving students and teachers feeling a lack of enthusiasm about the elective programs. He says the lack of enthusiasm and reduced resources for elective courses could equate to higher dropout rates, pointing to an example of two high school students on the Coast who relied on the foods course to get them through high school.

"Those two kids looked at the foods course as their reason for coming to school and they never would have made it through without having that connection in the foods course, seeing what they could achieve and saying 'wow, we can do this,'" Fafard said. He pointed out that students in the foods course graduate with employable skills in the food industry.

He said the cuts have put an increased strain on teachers, noting foods teachers are looking at the idea of having to ask students to bring food from home to continue cooking in class.

"That hasn't happened yet, but it's a real possibility in the future, because the school board isn't getting the funding from the government to properly fund these elective courses that they are not allowed to charge for," Fafard said. This year School District No. 46 has pledged to fund electives such as band classes out of their unallocated fund surplus. But Fafard worries where funding for the electives will come from in the future when the unallocated fund is depleted.

"Basically because of the funding from the board, we were able to dodge the bullet this year, which is good news for kids. But we need the government to properly fund the initiatives they are putting in place for the future," he said.

Minister of education and minister responsible for early learning and literacy Shirley Bond was on the Coast this week visiting area schools and talking with school board officials.

Bond said she heard the concerns regarding the fees ruling.

"The biggest area I've heard concern about in light of the fees ruling is the protection of choice programs, those specialty programs where we don't want to lose those kids from the public education system," Bond said. "So right now I am looking at whether government should consider an amendment to the school act that would allow boards some degree of latitude in areas they may charge fees. We do basically uphold the school act in the fact that if a student needs a course to graduate, resources must be provided free of charge. That hasn't changed."

She did not commit her government to funding any elective courses in the future, but noted students requiring funding assistance for school programs are able to access that help through their local school districts.

"The other thing I think has been lost in this discussion is the fact that school districts must have hardship policies in place, so if a student does need assistance, school districts are required to provide that. I think that's been lost a little bit in this discussion," she added.