Education should be free.
A supreme court ruling this week ensured schools can’t charge for education in British Columbia, and the Yukon needs to get on board, according to Sandra Henderson, president of the Yukon Teachers’ Association.
The government should pony up the cash for all school-system programs and classes that count towards a grade on a student’s permanent record.
“When we charge a fee, it’s not equitable to all students — some may not mind asking their parents for money, but others may just back away from it because they know their family cannot afford it,” said Henderson, who has taught in Canadian school systems for 50 years, about half of them spent in the Yukon.
Currently students in Yukon high schools pay $260 to access the Music, Art and Drama program, and $475 for the Experiential Science Program (although that program does include activities like scuba diving, according to Education spokesperson Clea Ainsworth.)
Courses like woodworking generally have no fees, except in special cases where students make snowboards or boats.
And it costs $75 to rent an instrument in order to participate in the Porter Creek Secondary School band, although students may make other arrangements, Ainsworth said.
That price tag a barrier to learning, said Henderson.
“If a program is deemed an important part of the curriculum, that program should be fully funded when it’s offered during school hours,” she said.
And charging students to learn violates tenants outlined in the Yukon’s Education Act.
“No tuition fees consequent to the student’s attendance for an educational program as determined under section 11 shall be charged to the student or the parents of the student,” reads section 12 of the act.
Now, coming up to the territorial election next week, the teachers’ association has put the question of school fees, and other issues, forward to each party leader.
“Please let us know how your government will adequately fund the education system and ensure that it is free to all students,” reads a letter, dated September 22, from the YTA addressed to NDP leader Todd Hardy, Yukon Party leader Dennis Fentie and Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell.
As of Wednesday, she’d heard responses from the New Democrats and the Liberals.
The NDP has committed to do away with fees.
The party’s education platform “contains a commitment to elimination of fees for cultural, recreational and curriculum-related activities in elementary and secondary schools,” reads a letter from Hardy in response.
And the Grits agree.
“The Yukon Liberal Party supports the principle that our children and their parents should not have to pay additional fees for graduation requirements,” reads a letter from Mitchell to the YTA.
The teachers’ association also wants to hear how the parties stand on whether substitute teachers should be allowed to join the association’s ranks, and whether school programs should be contracted out to non-teachers off school grounds.
Currently, the association has more than 700 members; 456 are teachers, the others are educational assistants, tutors and language instructors.
But, because substitute teachers are not considered government employees, they are not allowed to join the association.
“The Yukon remains one of only three jurisdictions in Canada where teachers-on-call (substitutes) are not represented by an association. Please let us know how your government will act to accord them employees status within the Education Labour Relations Act, thus acknowledging the right to association and representation,” asks the teachers’ association’s letter to candidates.
This is where the commitments from the two parties begin to blur.
The NDP would commit to talking with the YTA about admitting substitute teachers in its ranks.
And the Liberals support an “employee’s right to join a union or association.”
Henderson also wants to see the government hire at least 10 qualified high school teachers, 10 elementary school teachers and five French-language teachers on a permanent basis to fill in when there is need for a sub.
“If we had this pool it would alleviate pressures on the teachers who are away; it would supply more professional education in the classroom while the teacher is away and we wouldn’t have situations where we can’t find subs,” said Henderson.
As for the contracting out of programs to non-teachers during school hours.
“We are concerned that the department of Education is contracting with others for the development and delivery of programs during school hours,” reads the YTA’s letter to the candidates.
“Please tell us what your government will do to ensure that student programs and services can be adequately accommodated and delivered within schools with staffing provided by YTA members.”
The Liberals replied: “We believe that the YTA and its membership are best suited to deliver programming in our schools.”
“In general, Todd Hardy and the NDP believe that school work should be performed by department of Education staff,” reads the letter from the NDP leader.
One school ships students to an industrial subdivision to attend shop classes and that’s inappropriate, said Henderson.
“In the Education Act it says that government is responsible for free education that meets the needs of all students.
“If you have 15 or 20 kids who want to do carpentry and there’s no carpentry in the school, they should create a carpentry class inside the school.
“Have some vision, organize your schools in response to the student’s needs and interests,” said Henderson.