Ensuring equal opportunities for rural schools

Last week, I wrote about the importance of education.

Last week, I wrote about the importance of education, and how funding per student here in School District 27 has increased over the past decade. This week, I’d like to talk about the unique needs of rural and remote schools.

Rural and remote schools face challenges that are quite different from urban centres. They have special transportation needs due to the large distances involved, they can face declining enrollment, and they may have vulnerable students.  After working with education partners from all over B.C., and recognizing that rural and remote schools have different needs, our government has made changes to the funding formula for this year.

The new model supports the needs of rural and remote schools through several supplements. The first of these is Funding Protection, which ensures that school districts will receive at least 98.5 per cent of the previous year’s funding, despite a dropping number of students. Second is Salary Differential, which gives extra funding to districts that have higher average salaries for educators.  Third is the Unique Student Needs supplement, which provides additional funding to address the unique circumstances of students who have special needs, students who require English Language Learning, and Aboriginal students.

In addition, the Unique Geographic Factors supplement provides extra funding to overcome the challenges faced by small communities, rural locations, sparsely spaced schools, and schools with low or declining enrolment. This supplement will ensure an extra $268 million for qualifying districts this school year, including $11.2 million for vulnerable students, $1.5 million to help small, rural and remote elementary schools, and $3.7 million to overcome problems caused by low enrolment.

Only through these sorts of supplements can we ensure that students at rural and remote schools have the same opportunities as students in bigger towns and cities. I’m happy to see these changes implemented to make education fair and equitable for all students.

Donna Barnett is the Liberal MLA for the Cariboo-Chilcotin.