'It's hurting our kids': Parent council seeks school supply donations, saying provincial cuts are to blame

The parent council at a Calgary Board of Education (CBE) school say government cuts to Alberta's education budget have forced them to ask families to donate essential school supplies.

"We are at the point where making needless cuts to education is impacting the children and the future of the province," said Ashley Bristowe, who is a member of the Hillhurst School council. 

Earlier this week, the council sent an email to parents asking for donations of basic school supplies — such as paper, whiteboard markers, staples and pens — saying cuts were to blame.

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"The school system is supposed to supply those things, [but] we're going around that pylon and just making sure that our kids have what they need," Bristowe said.

"Which is, really, the role of the public purse. Making sure that kids all over the province have what they need to go to school shouldn't be at the whim of the parents at a particular school."

'I'm not surprised'

Sarah Hoffman, the education critic for the NDP, said she's not surprised to see this happening.

"I know that all parents want the best for their kids. And I'm not surprised that parents tried to crowdsource for things that they fear won't be available with these kinds of cuts," she said.

"I think it's unfortunate the government chose to spend $4.7 billion on a corporate giveaway and now parents are in a position that they feel they have to pass the hat."

'Common practice'

But Colin Aitchison, a spokesperson for the office of the ministry of education, said in a statement that this is nothing new for schools under the UCP.

"It's been common practice for years, including under the NDP, for school councils to fundraise and support their children's classrooms," he said.

Aitchison said the new funding model for school boards will provide the flexibility they've long asked for. 

"[The model will allow] them to better meet the unique needs of the students," he said.

Fundraising is the norm

In a statement, the CBE said school councils and parent societies work closely with principals to determine fundraising goals and events, and agree on the donation of supplies, services and society expenses.

"This year, the parents at Hillhurst School decided to ask for school supply donations in addition to monetary donations for the school," reads the statement. 

"Their fundraising efforts traditionally involve a cheque writing campaign and volunteering at a casino. The majority of funds raised by the parent society goes toward field trips and school residencies."

Under provincial legislation, the CBE said they are unable to charge students for specific instructional supplies and materials.

"Each school is provided funds through their Resource Allocation Method to cover these costs," the statement reads.

In the majority of CBE elementary schools, students are not required to bring their own supplies. According to the CBE, the supplies requested by the parent group would be an enhancement to the materials provided by the school.

But Bristowe said while the parents at Hillhurst can afford to supply these sorts of donations, not all parents can.

"This is not going to be the case in the majority of schools across the province," she said. 

"A lot of parents are in hard times and school fees themselves are difficult for families to make, this year in particular. And this is a government that isn't taking responsibility for the changes they're making, and it's hurting our kids."