Affordability funds benefiting families in NLPS but one-time nature could have negative impact

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools says the student and family affordability funds from the province have benefited families hit hardest by the rising costs of necessities like groceries, but once those funds are gone, there will likely be repercussions.

In August of last year, the B.C. government disbursed one-time funds to all school districts via its student and family affordability fund meant to go toward expansion of school food programs and assist families in need with costs of school supplies and fees related to activities like field trips and graduation.

NLPS received nearly $1.46 million, which has included allocations to all schools in the district with a minimum of $10,000 to each school. As of January 31, 46.2 per cent of elementary funds and 46.8 per cent of secondary funds had been disbursed. A portion also went directly to First Nations, of which 89 per cent had been spent and Nanaimo Ladysmith Schools Foundation received $275,000 directly, all of which had been expended.

The amount left to be expended at schools “is a little higher than it should be” though any unused monies can be carried forward into next school year, Secretary-Treasurer Mark Walsh told the business committee March 8.

Funds have been used for food-related costs, including gift cards, as well as to cover costs related to participating in curricular or extracurricular activities. Families have been able to make direct requests to schools while recommendations have also been made through counsellors, child and youth support workers and other staff members, Walsh said.

“We had some odd requests, and sometimes we said no, and sometimes we were able to support that.

“There’s no doubt that these funds are having a positive impact on the community; however, there is going to be repercussions of the funds not continuing on to next year and how people are going to adapt to that lack of resource.”

The province has placed restrictions on the use of the student and family affordability funds such as using it for staffing. “This has left our school teams largely in the position of identifying needs and adding yet another administrative task to already busy schools,” a staff report on the funds notes.

The provincial government’s Budget 2023 announcement at the end of February included $214 million over three years to expand existing K-12 school food programs and increase capacity to address student hunger in all districts. While NLPS has not been provided details yet on what that funding will look like, Walsh said the district expects it will likely include support for staffing as well as purchasing equipment like stoves and fridges.

Rachelle Stein-Wotten, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder