Families face back-to-school stress because of B.C. Liberal cuts

Bruce Ralston
Bruce Ralston
Bruce Ralston

The return to school is an exciting time for both kids and their parents. Kids are excited to see their friends and learn new things. Parents look forward to the stability and structure that the school year brings.
But for many families, the return to the school year also brings a lot of financial hardship and stress. For some families, school supplies and fees can set parents back hundreds of dollars for each child. For families with multiple children, the bills can be overwhelming.
There was a time when a kindergarten student didn’t have to bring much more than themselves and a pair of indoor shoes to the classroom. As the B.C. Liberals cut funding for our public school system, the list of school supplies families have to purchase grows and grows.
Now the Surrey School Board asks parents of children in kindergarten to supply two packs of crayons, two packs of markers, freezer bags, dry erase markers, tissues, 6 glue sticks, scissors, notebooks, paints, tissues, and many other things. The district instructs parents to not label the school supplies as belonging to the student, because in reality, these are supplies for the classroom, not for their child. At Old Yale Road Elementary school, parents are even asked to buy packages of photocopy paper as part of their children’s school supplies.
Basic supplies used to be bought by districts. But after a decade and a half of B.C. Liberal cuts to our education system, if parents and teachers didn’t buy supplies, classrooms wouldn’t have any. That has a big impact on family budgets.
It’s even more expensive for parents of children in high school. In addition to the usual expenses of having a teenager, parents now have to pay big money for their children to be included in after school activities that used to be free or affordable.
For example hockey academy at Lord Tweedsmuir costs $800 a year. Even just being part of the regular hockey team costs $160. That’s in addition to the cost of equipment and field trips. Even traditionally less expensive sports are outrageously expensive. Softball academy costs $300. Fees for being on the basketball team are $160. The cheer team costs $225. Even workbooks for basic academic courses like French and History cost up to $25 each.
While these activities and materials are optional, an inability to pay these steep fees means parents can be forced to say no to their children who want to participate in healthy after-school activities, or gain access to workbooks to help them with their studies. And not participating in school sports can affect a child’s chances of getting scholarships and entry into high-demand programs such as medical school.
It’s not just school supplies and sports that are squeezing families. Many districts are now charging families who need to use the school bus to get to school. Abbotsford charges $300 per student for their bus service, or $500 a year for families with multiple children. Maple Ridge charges $215 for the first two children, and $100 for every other child in the family.
Even with those fees Maple Ridge is looking at cancelling school buses entirely, because after a decade and a half of attacks on public education, they have run out of other places to cut.
Families are struggling in British Columbia under this government. Everyone knows they’re paying more for hydro bills, ferry fares, even camping fees in parks. But parents know that the extra costs just to send their children to public school also add up.
Before the B.C. Liberals became government it was unheard of for parents to have to pay to simply send their children to public school. Now, it’s just one more way Premier Christy Clark is making life less affordable for British Columbians.
(Bruce Ralston is the New Democrat MLA for Surrey-Whalley and spokesperson for multiculturalism.)