THE surprise imposition of a $20 a month fee for students who bus to Ecole Mountainview French immersion school and Uplands Elementary is the very thin wedge of a much larger debate about how universal the public school system really is.
The fee is based on the position that students who live outside a school’s surrounding area shouldn’t expect a free bus ride.
No matter that in the case of Ecole Mountainview there isn’t a catchment area because its instructional program eclipses the concept of a neighbourhood school. If you choose to have your child learn French, then pay you must.
This strikes at the foundation of public schools – equal access and opportunity where parents, no matter what school their children attend, pay taxes to support the system. By extension then, the bus fee is not a fee, but an additional tax.
Woven into this is the perception, unstated as it is, that students attending the two schools come from higher income families so that the additional bus tax is affordable.
Yet if affordability is an issue, the school district might waive the fee. How this might be determined is vague and undefined – by family income? By number of children in a family? By spending habits?
What’s really going on here is the transformation of a universal system into one where the school district arbitrarily decides who benefits and who does not. It’s an unenviable job.