The extra costs of attending school, Nicole Wohlgemuth explains in School Fees in Saskatoon, has significant effects on children who cannot afford to pay them. Inability to pay school fees has been linked to being tormented by peers, irregular attendance or dropping out altogether, and a less fulfilling overall school experience. Saskatoon Communities for Children (SCC) documented the price of attending schools to add strength to their campaign of reducing school expenses and eventually eliminating school fees for Saskatoon’s children. SCC asked eight elementary schools (kindergarten to grade eight) principals to participate in a survey that would help determine each school’s “extra” costs (i.e. beyond property taxes) for students.
Principals from four Public and four Catholic elementary schools (including two Community Schools) from varied parts of Saskatoon were contacted for this project. Seven agreed to participate. The principals were questioned about the amount of school fees that they charged and to what those fees were applied (e.g. photocopying, field trips, classroom activities). School supply lists were also requested so that a dollar figure could be calculated for yearly necessary supplies. Finally, principals were asked what programs or protocols (such as fundraising) were in place to alleviate these fees, particularly for families who cannot afford to pay.
The average amount of school fees paid students in grades one to eight in 2002-2003 was $28.35, ranging from $10.00 to $54.50. The average kindergarten fees were $28.00. These fees are used to cover materials (e.g. photocopying, workbooks, art supplies) and field trips. The average school supplies costs for grades one to eight was $76.80, ranging from $51.09 to $92.26. The average cost of school supplies for kindergarten students was $43.19. In all cases, the average that Catholic school students paid was higher than that for Public school students. The overall costs for students was $101.26. The above costs also do not include items like new clothes for school, which are especially necessary as children grow out of their old clothes, gym clothes (required by all schools), or atlases and dictionaries.
All the sampled schools have some means in place to cover fees for children who cannot afford to pay them. Some have instituted monthly payment plans, use funds from outside groups to cover the fees, or waive the fees altogether for those who cannot afford to pay. All but two schools also indicated that they use fundraising activities (e.g. bake sales) to cover some school activities’ costs, such as a camping trip.In spite of some of these means to alleviate expenses, Wohlgemuth explains, these costs exceed, for example, the amount allotted for education for those on Social Assistance.
Since this project’s initiation, there have been some improvements as several schools’ are working to reduce their fees. This is a valuable first step that, hopefully, will lead to an abandonment of fees altogether. When the risk of irregular attendance or dropping out altogether is heightened by student fees’ existence, their elimination does not seem too great a price to pay.