My children have been back at school for two entire days now after the summer break. Already I have received 4 requests for money from their schools. As I look around the school yards and watch the teachers welcoming students new to the schools and new to Canada, I wonder how many of the parents will be surprised to root through their children’s backpacks and find these photocopied requests for money. I wonder if they came to Canada with the belief that public education is free in Ontario. If so, they are about to find it isn’t free where I live.
Elementary Public Education has Never Been Free in Ontario
I’ve never been surprised by the constant stream of requests for small amounts of money from my children’s schools. When I grew up in Ontario my parents faced a similar litter of papers asking for cash. I’m fully expecting it to increase as our children grow up and continue on to high school.
Typical requests include:
- $5-10 to purchase a school-customized agenda
- $3-15 to partially pay for drama, music, performance art and other creative performances hosted at the school itself requiring no bus transportation
- $15-25 for one field trip per year or for one curriculum-related in-school activity
- $1.87 – $8 for music for instrumental classes
- $200+ for instrument rentals for music classes if you don’t provide your own instrument
Common Non-education-related requests include:
- $2.50 and up to purchase a slice of pizza or a pizza lunch one or more times per month
- $3 and up to purchase a sandwich or sandwich lunch one or more times per month
- $1 and up to buy erasers, bookmarks, small posters and other trinkets from the in-library book sale
- $1.99 and up to buy a book or books from the Scholastic book club flyer, monthly
- $6+ for transportation to participate in a multi-school sports challenge such as a volleyball tournament
- $12 and up to buy a photo of the child taken on the same day as the class photo
Charitable requests often include
- $0.05 and up for school-made and delivered postcards to support Sleeping Children Around the World
- $2 for the Terry Fox Run
- $2 for a classroom charity project such as raising funds for a researched cause
- $? as much as possible for the school fundraising goals for the year
- $2 and up to buy items related to conservation or to sponsor projects like training a dog guide
- canned and packaged goods for various food drives
- mittens, gloves and hats for the Salvation Army winter clothing drive
- prizes for various raffles and other fundraising events at the school
Ontario Schools Were Reminded They Cannot Charge for Required Materials
In 2011, Ontario school boards were reminded that they are not allowed to charge for materials required to complete the basic curriculum. The reminder was needed because lab fees, for example, for high school were getting punitively high. (One article about this reminder is Ontario targets unnecessary school fees on the CBC website. )
This has led to some rather humorous notes sent home from the schools. They explain that things like the in-school drama and music performances are not actually part of the curriculum, so the school is allowed to ask parents to pay for them. They are quick to point out, though, that these performances are ALMOST required and that your child will be left culturally stunted if they have to sit alone in the library while the rest of the school attends because you don’t pay the fee.
In my experience, my children have usually been asked to write (boring) multi-page reports about these performances and make “connections” between the events and other classroom teaching. I’m not sure what the children who can’t afford to attend these events are supposed to be handing in instead: Perhaps an individually researched report on Chopin completed while they were stuck in the library? Frankly, the events ARE part of the curriculum.
Be Sure to Budget for your Children’s School Costs
If your children are still preschoolers or are just a gleam in your eye, you may want to budget for future years for these unexpected school expenses. We spend several hundred dollars per child per year.
I think you could probably reduce that to about one hundred dollars per child, IF
- you didn’t support any school fundraisers or
- contribute to any of the charities the school urges your child to support, and
- if you don’t let your child ever buy any of the food, trinkets or books sold at the school.
Be prepared, though, for the fact your child will stand apart from their classmates and friends. Your child will likely find it very embarrassing and awkward being “the only one” who doesn’t get pizza or a book or give a toonie for Terry Fox.
Despite the Ministry guideline that states “The dignity of every student and parent should be honoured in the school fee collection process….” I know that the actual practice can be quite different.
Consider Signing Up for a Bank Account with Free Cheques
After wasting many cheques on these school expenses, eventually I got wise and opened a PC Financial no fee chequing account. For now, there is no fee for additional cheques. Since the risk of backpack pilfering is greatly reduced by paying the school with a cheque rather than cash, I use cheques. A lot of them. If you want to do the same, you may want to read more about the PC Financial joint account we opened and consider opening one yourself.
- How to Open a PC Financial No Fee Chequing Account in Person
- How to Order More Cheques from PC Financial
- How to Transfer Money into a PC Financial Account from Another Bank
- Fees for Learning Materials and Activities Guideline from the Ontario Ministry of Education
Does the number of requests for money from your child’s school bother you? Have you come up with any ways to trim these unexpected costs? Please share your experiences with a comment.