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$2.4M fund to help Central Okanagan parents/students with school costs

School busing fees will not qualify for assistance
School bus fees are not covered for funding assistance through the Student and Family Affordability Fund established by the ministry of education for school districts. (File photo)

Central Okanagan Public Schools will oversee a $2.4 million fund set up to assist parents with school costs.

The money is the school district’s share of the $60 million one-time fund announced by Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside in August to help expand school meal programs, provide basic school supplies, cover any education-related fees, and support with clothing/footwear required for school sports and other activities.

Whiteside empowered school districts to work with parent advisory councils, community groups and local First Nations to address student priorities.

“We want to support students and families and relieve some of the financial pressures for families throughout B.C. who need it right now,” said Whiteside in making the announcement last summer.

Addressing how the money would be allocated at the Sept. 28 board of education meeting, school district superintendent/CEO Kevin Kaardal said staff are working out a process by which funding assistance can be accessed by parents who need the help.

Kaardal said while that process is quickly being developed, his suggestion at this point is the school principals will be the initial point of contact for accessing funding assistance.

A fund analysis presented to the board outlined a potential outline for how the $2.4 million could be allocated: $474,000 to expand breakfast, brown bag and backpack programs; $600,000 for family of schools; $587,739 for field study fees; $10,000 for Indigenous education support; $75,000 for new refugees support; $100,000 for private psych assessment fees; $162,330 for school activity fees; $197,640 for school supply and cultural fees; and $100,000 held in reserve for other needs.

He said the ministry has given no indication any funds not spent would carry over to the school district’s 2023-24 school year, meaning it must be fully spent as of June 30, 2023.

He noted school busing fees will not be eligible for funding assistance, a stipulation dictated by the ministry.

The former Liberal government removed school busing as a provincial funding allocation for school districts, which the subsequent NDP government upheld.

That means school districts such as Central Okanagan which have opted to maintain a school bus service do so from general operating funds otherwise targeted for school programs.

He said the cost for a BC Transit bus pass for students could be eligible for funding, although school trustee Amy Geistlinger, re-elected by acclamation to represent Lake Country, noted public transit has initiatives in place for those who can’t afford transit pass fees.

Trustee Norah Bowman, who is not seeking re-election, noted that school staff are being asked to administer the program, which includes distribution of the funds and reporting back to the ministry on how students accessed the funding, being downloaded with another task when resources are already being stretched thin.

“The ministry has no way of determining which students and families are facing financial hardship and so who should be receiving the support,” said a ministry report.

“This fund provides a means of reaching diverse populations needing financial support with the cost of returning to school that may otherwise be missed. It allows for a more targeted approach to reach those students who need it most.”

READ MORE: Increasing deferred maintenance projects due to lack of funding a concern

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Barry Gerding

About the Author: Barry Gerding

Senior regional reporter for Black Press Media in the Okanagan. I have been a journalist in the B.C. community newspaper field for 37 years...
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