Shouldn’t public education be free? Why are you charging school fees if this is the case?
The CBE is committed to students and their learning and the choices we make are based on that sole priority. We are also committed to keeping educational dollars in the classroom. Fees only go to cover items that are not fully funded by the government. In the case of noon supervision and ISM, no provincial funding is provided so the cost is covered by fees. In the case of transportation, the provincial government does provide some funding, but it doesn’t cover the total cost of the service.
While no one at the CBE wants to charge fees, they are an unfortunate reality and we work very hard to provide good value for the money spent.
Here are a few examples.
At the CBE, the transportation fee is $335 per school year, or $33.50 per month.
For that amount a student is picked up each and every school day, transported safely to their school and dropped off at their school. At the end of the day the process is reversed with the student being picked up, safely transported and then dropped off close to their home. Most students travel less than 800 metres to their yellow school bus stop.
Over our approximate 184 school days that service costs about $1.82 per day. By way of comparison, a one way fare on Calgary Transit for a student is $2.10. A round trip would be $4.20; so $1.82 is significantly less.
For noon supervision the fee is $285 for a five days a week coverage. Over the school year that amounts to about $1.55 per day. That ensures that your child is supervised while allowing teachers the time to focus on students and their learning.
The fee paid for noon supervision is also an eligible child care expense and can be claimed on your tax return for a credit. Just as in transportation, only users of the service pay the fee.
Then there are the instructional supplies and materials fees. This fee provides school supplies and other important materials. That fee ranges from $30 for the early years to $152 for a high school student. Once again, over the course of the school year that works out to between 16 and 83 cents per school day.
We are also criticized for not offering a family maximum. A family maximum is problematic for a few reasons. First, a maximum simply moves the burden elsewhere. For example, to smaller families not at the arbitrary maximum. Or, the burden moves to the learning budget which means fewer dollars to directly support all students and their learning. And finally, just because a family has multiple children does not necessarily mean they don’t have the ability to pay. Our waiver process ensures that those who need relief, regardless of family size, have access to the support that they need.
The CBE collects about $51 million in fees in the course of the school year. If we were to eliminate fees, that would mean that $51 million would have to be found somewhere else in the system to cover those costs. To give you a sense of perspective, here is what $51 million means in our system:
- $51 million pays for approximately 415 teaching positions across the system. However, we don’t consider cutting teaching positions to be a viable option because of the impact on learning. It is, however, a choice that could be made.
- $51 million is enough to fund five high schools annually, or about 10 good-sized elementary schools. Once again, not a viable option when we want to focus on students and their learning.
That said, where else could money be found? Here are some other options:
- Eliminate the entire budget for Facilities and Environmental Services and save $51.2 million. While that generates the funding to pay for fees consider that no school would be maintained or repaired. No custodial staff keeping the facilities clean and comfortable, no maintenance staff fixing the broken door or windows, no one to mow the lawns or clear the snow.
- Eliminate the total amount spent on legal services, communications and public engagement, finance, information technology, human resources, the office of the Chief Superintendent and the Board of Trustees. In doing this you save about $48.9 million but you are still short $2.1 million. You would still need to eliminate the equivalent of about 17 teachers. If we pick this option there is no one to purchase the goods and services, pay the bills, hire and support staff, maintain the technology infrastructure, communicate and engage with you, our students, parents, and community, or provide the necessary strategic direction to the CBE.
- Eliminate the total amount dedicated to Board and System Administration (currently at a very modest 2.7 per cent of revenue and the lowest of the four metro school jurisdictions) of $37 million. You are still $14 million shy so you need to eliminate the equivalent of 114 teaching positions. In doing this we have no elected trustees to advocate with the provincial government for adequate funding, no strategic direction or planning, and we eliminate all of the supports that are necessary to operate a $1.3 billion organization with 240 schools and more than 119,000 students.
When we do need to charge a fee we work diligently to ensure that we provide good value for the money paid. No child is denied access to their public education by an inability to pay a fee, and we encourage families who may be struggling to apply for a waiver or to speak directly to their principal.