Wildrose commits to eliminate mandatory school fees in Alberta

Calgary — The Globe and Mail

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith walks post supporters to the podium to make a campaign speech in Edmonton Wednesday, March 28, 2012 for the upcoming Alberta provincial election. (Jason Franson/ The Canadian Press/Jason Franson/ The Canadian Press)

Mandatory school fees, which ring in on average at about $100 per year for each student in Alberta, according to the Wildrose Party, would be wiped out if Danielle Smith is elected premier on April 23.

With that announcement on Friday, Ms. Smith joins the left-leaning Liberals and NDP in the chorus of opposition to the mandatory fees that cover everything from basic school supplies to expensive extra curricular activities.

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While campaigning in the southeastern city of Lethbridge, Ms. Smith pledged to eliminate all such fees in the public, separate and public charter school systems in order to ease financial barriers to education for parents.

While the costs vary from school to school, Ms. Smith said “some parents with several children in the school system have to pay up to $2,000 per year in mandatory fees.”

She accused the long-governing Progressive Conservatives of “nickel and diming” Alberta families and suggested if schools were properly funded, fees wouldn’t be necessary.

PC Leader Alison Redford said school fees are a symptom of a broader problem – funding uncertainty for school boards, which her party is trying to solve with “transformative” changes. The Tories hope to pass a massive education act, years in the making that grants more autonomy to school boards, and have pledged three-year funding cycles to allow boards to plan ahead.

“We certainly believe that parents have the right to make those choices [on school fees] but my commitment is to ensure that we’re putting in place policy and budget that’s going to allow every child in this province to excel to the best of their ability,” Ms. Redford said in Leduc, south of Edmonton.

She also dismissed the opposition parties’ desire to jettison the school fees.

“I think coming up with these sorts of proposals don’t actually take into account the work school boards are doing long-term, and really the fundamental work we’re doing in education,” Ms. Redford said.

With a file from Josh Wingrove in Leduc, Alta