Days before the school year starts, the official Opposition is sounding the alarm about regulatory changes they say will allow Alberta school boards to reintroduce fees for busing.
The changes comes into effect Sunday, also undoing the rule brought into force by the former NDP government that required boards to get ministerial approval for new or substantial fee increases.
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange was not available for an interview Saturday, but her press secretary Colin Aitchison said in an email that the changes were “alluded to” with the introduction of Bill 8.
“We respect the autonomy of local school boards to make decisions on day-to-day matters,” Aitchison wrote. “As always, school boards will remain accountable to the parents of their students for any fees they choose to bring into force.”
When the NDP introduced the changes in 2017, they said it would save parents over $50 million — $15 million for busing alone.
“Hearing that the UCP has lifted any sort of regulation or oversight around transportation fees, I think, is ridiculous,” said Sarah Hoffman, the NDP education critic.
Hoffman said the NDP decided to bring up the changes Saturday because it took the Opposition a while to go through all of the regulations passed by the government.
“We hope that boards don’t feel they’re in a position where they need to increase their transportation fees, but we understand that if they’re not getting adequate funding from the government, it’s something they might choose to do,” she said.
Hoffman said that without a clear financial picture from the province, it will be hard for school boards to know whether or not to increase fees.
Edmonton Public School Board trustee Trisha Estabrooks said in an e-mail statement that they are approaching their budget “with a number of cautions.”
Estabrooks said it will take time to understand the new changes and what impact they could have on families.
“At this time, the Education Act and regulations will not have an immediate impact on Edmonton Public Schools’ students and families on the first day of school. We do not expect parents will pay more for school fees or for supplies.
“In the spring, the Board of Trustees approved an increase to transportation fees, which was communicated with families. For most families, this means bus fees will increase between $1 and $5 per month this school year.”
Estabrooks maintains the board understands the financial implications of transportation fees but notes that changes will “directly impact the operations of the district.”