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    Categories: Provincial News

Province drops axe on some school fees

St. Albert parents might save up to $1,100 this fall if the province passes a bill to ban fees for textbooks and busing.

Education Minister David Eggen tabled Bill 1 in the Alberta Legislature Thursday. If passed, the bill would prevent school boards from charging fees for busing students that are more than 2.4 kilometres from their designated schools or for instructional supplies and materials as of this September. It would also create regulations for all school fees.

Families have called for these fees to be cut for years, said Premier Rachel Notley.

“School fees should not be a barrier to kids getting a good start in life, no matter their circumstances.”

Eggen said this bill would benefit the roughly 600,000 Alberta families that pay for instructional supplies and the 145,000 that pay for busing. It would save Albertans about $54 million, money his department would find through efficiencies.

Edmonton and St. Albert families with three kids can expect to save $750 to $1,100 this fall once these fees are eliminated, said Alberta Education officials in a technical briefing on the bill. These fees represented about 25 per cent of the fees parents currently pay for schooling.

The province plans to define instructional supplies and materials in regulation, but said it would include textbooks, workbooks, photocopying, paper and any fees charged to the entire student body.

Eggen said he would meet with parents, schools and students in the coming months to figure out what other fees should be eliminated.

“School fees went in so many different directions. It was a bit of a Wild West out there for many years.”

Greater St. Albert Catholic board chair Serena Shaw applauded the bill, and said it would benefit all students if it passed. Although her board recently voted to reinstate these fees this fall, it did so with the provision that it would reconsider if the province took action on them.

“This will certainly bring it back to the board table,” she said.

About 1,625 GSACRD students currently take the bus and live more than 2.4 km away from school, said Catholic board secretary treasurer Deborah Schlag. Urban students pay about $270 for a bus pass, while rural ones pay about $220. Students pay a learning resource fee equal to $60 in elementary, $70 in junior high and $100 in senior high.

St. Albert Public charged learning resources fees of $55, $65 and $110 per elementary, junior and senior high student this year, said public board finance superintendent Michael Brenneis. About 1,600 students would have paid bus fees of $190, $240 if they signed up past the June 1 deadline.

A family with three high-school kids that lived at least 2.4 km from school in St. Albert would therefore save $900 to $1,100 in school fees this fall if this bill passed, the Gazette estimates.

While she supported the bill, St. Albert Public board chair Glenys Edwards voiced concern that schools would have to cut back on busing or programming if the province didn’t cover the full cost of instructional and transportation fees. The public board offers busing to kids that live less than 2.4 km from their school for a price, for example, and it was unclear if they would still be able to do so under this law. The regulations could also affect fees charged for locally developed courses.

“We want to make sure we as a school board have the autonomy to decide what the needs of our community are,” Edwards said.

“We need to figure out what is beyond basic.”

Assembly.ab.ca has the text of Bill 1.

Kevin Ma: Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.