VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The first installment of the $242-million of federal funding for B.C. schools during the COVID-19 pandemic is coming this month.
There will be $101.1 million for public schools, nearly $7.96 million for independent schools, and a $12.1 million safety net for any COVID surprises between September and December.
Funds will be dispersed to districts on a per-pupil basis and it’s up to the districts how they will use the money.
On Thursday, Education Minister Rob Fleming confirmed the funds can and are being used to hire teachers to support remote learning, but districts aren’t limited to that.
“I think that would probably be a considerable area of how this money will be utilized but we don’t want to be prescriptive, understanding that different districts will have considerably different priorities,” he says.
Fleming says districts can use funds “to purchase things like more software licenses, more electronic course materials or textbooks, to help supply new computers or tablets for families who need them, and to create things like additional Wi-Fi spots in remote and Indigenous communities, and provide internet access to families.”
He adds funds can go towards expanding health and safety measures in schools, including hiring more custodial staff and bringing in more Plexi-glass barriers.
Q is $ going to hire teachers for remote learning.? why not specifically allocate it?@Rob_Fleming says yes, districts are hiring. But doesn’t want to be prescriptive to allow districts the flexibility they need to put the money where they need it most.#bcpoli #covid19 @news1130
— LizaYuzda (@LizaYuzda) September 3, 2020
Hiring more teachers is a key point on the list of priorities the teacher’s union sent the province Wednesday.
However, a call for smaller classes to allow for physical distancing and requiring remote learning options in all districts hasn’t been addressed yet.
Fleming notes many districts are wrapping up surveys gathering feedback on learning options, and how the funding is used in individual districts will vary.
“We expect districts to continue to show their innovation and leverage their existing strengths on things like providing remote learning options during this very extraordinary time,” he says.
The second installment of $121.8 million will come in January, Fleming says.
BCTF supports use of funding
BC Teachers’ Federation President Teri Mooring says the use of funding to hire more teachers and staff is welcomed, as is improving remote learning options.
B.C. teachers and parents had been pushing the province to bring in more remote learning. Many districts around the Lower Mainland have offered some form of online learning, or are in the process of gathering feedback to do so.
“Meaningful and easy to access remote learning options will help reduce class sizes and school density,” Mooring says in a release. “Making sure there is space in classrooms and common areas in schools to allow everyone to abide by physical distancing best practices will help keep everyone safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
Mooring urged school districts to start reducing density in school as classrooms as soon as possible and says local unions will be advocating to ensure the funding is used to lower class sizes.
“The province has now passed this responsibility down to school districts and we will be working flat out to hold them accountable for worker and student safety.”
If parents and guardians haven’t heard from their districts about plans for the fall return, Fleming recommends they reach out to the school.
For the latest back-to-school information during the pandemic, click here.
-With files from the Canadian Press