A $12 million cut in government funding to Independent Distributed Learning (IDL) schools has sparked criticism from both homeschooling parents and the opposition.
Distributed learning is a method that allows students to connect with their teachers from anywhere. There are currently 16 IDL schools listed as active on the Ministry of Education’s website. There are none listed as based in Chilliwack, but there are many families in Chilliwack that use a IDL schools entirely, or in combination with in-class learning at either private or public schools.
The funding change, announced at the start of May but not effective until July 1, caught the attention of Chilliwack MLA Laurie Throness. He calls the funding “disturbing.”
“The NDP have decided to slash funding by $12 million on July 1 for online independent schools – not doing the same for online distance education in public schools,” he said in a Facebook post. “This disproportionately hurts special needs, remote rural, low income and homeschool kids, right in the midst of a pandemic when they’re encouraging more online learning! I find this inexplicable and unacceptable decision, not based on evidence, so disturbing.”
The Ministry of Education website explains the funding changes, saying that “for school years 2012/13 to 2019/20, as set out in the Independent School Regulation (PDF), Group 1 DL independent schools are funded at 63 percent of the public school DL FTE rate. Group 2 schools are funded at 44.1 percent of the same public school DL FTE rate.”
“Beginning in the 2020/21 school year the DL funding rates will change to: Group 1 independent DL schools will be funded at 50 percent of the public school DL FTE rate, while Group 2 independent DL schools will be funded at 35 percent of the public school DL FTE rate.”
But that information leaves out any rationale for the changes. The Progress contacted the Ministry of Education for an explanation.
“After extensive consultation through the funding model review, we are modernizing the delivery of online learning programs over the next three school years to better support the new curriculum and ensure every student has consistent access to a quality education,” a ministry representative answered. “The way kids learn in school today has evolved and students are learning both online and in the classroom.”
They say that the previous Liberal government increased funding for independent school online learning in the 2012/2013 school year, which resulted in independent distributed learning schools being funded at a 13 per cent higher rate than the rest of the independent sector. And that funding has increased until this year.
“Independent schools are receiving $138 million or 45 per cent more this school year than under the previous government,” the rep noted. “We’re making things consistent by funding independent online learning at the same funding rate as all other independent schools.”
Some of Throness’ concerns may be eased by other information provided by the ministry.
“To ensure that children with special needs continue to be prioritized, special education funding for those enrolled with independent online schools will not change,” they added.
“These changes cover independent school distributed learning programs only and not distributed learning programs in public schools or for home-schoolers.”
Only one of the 16 IDLs charge tuition fees, a sign to the Ministry of Education that they were being over funded.
“Government funding of independent schools is not intended to cover a school’s full operating costs and yet the vast majority of independent distributed learning schools were able to operate without charging tuition,” they said. “This is simply part of ongoing responsible fiscal management.”
Rhiannon Gascoigne of Chilliwack also has concerns. As a homeschooling mother of six for the past eight years, she says their family just “scrapes by” with one income. She has two special needs kids, a gifted child and one with Type 1 diabetes.
She says her kids “not only learn better at home, but save the public system thousands of dollars because they do not require a TA in class at a public school.”
She says the targeting of IDLs is “unacceptable discrimination.”
“No other students in the province are losing funding,” she says. “Targeting home learners means targeting lower income earners and a large percentage of children with special needs.”
She also feels it may “backfire” on the province, if students can’t get the distance education they have been using and need to enter a regular public school.
“It is because of my family’s financial sacrifice and hard work that there is more money in the public system for those who prefer to send their kids to public school,” she adds. “We don’t deserve to have to pick up more of the cost of our children’s education than we already do. We pay taxes like everyone else and our children are entitled to government support for education. Now is a time to celebrate home learners.”
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