Parents lobby for more French resource funding

Funding guidelines based on enrolment numbers from 2012-13 school year

A group of parents is rallying support in an attempt to free up more funding for French immersion students in the Sooke School District.

“We’re in need of funding for everything. Any addition funding makes a huge difference,” said Cendra Beaton, president of the Canadian Parents for French Sooke District Chapter.

The group is hoping to gain the Sooke Board of Education’s support to pressure the provincial government to re-evaluate the district’s funding formula for French resources.

Funding is provided to districts to help offset the costs of French programming, with funds to be used to purchase additional materials and resources, such as books and software. If the money is not spent within a specific set of guidelines, the Ministry of Education can reclaim any portion not used for its intended propose.

What has Beaton and other parents  concerned is that funding is being allotted to SD62 based on enrolment numbers from the 2012-13 school year.

With the Sooke School District one of the fastest growing districts in the province, Beaton is concerned they’re missing out on key funding. Since the 2012-13 school year, the district’s French immersion program has grown from 9.6 per cent of the overall school population to more than 12 per cent. That’s an increase of almost 300 students. “That’s an entire school essentially,” Beaton said. “These funds are being really stretched.”

Board of Education chair Bob Phillips said SD62 trustees are “clearly in favour of additional funding for French language programs from either the provincial or the federal level.” Local MLAs and MPs have been lobbying Victoria and Ottawa, respectively, for increases, he added.

But the funding isn’t just being used for resources for French Immersion students, she added. It’s also going to students on the English track that take core French classes.

“It affects a good majority of our students,” she said.

While the majority of students in French immersion live in households where the parents or guardians don’t speak French, “what they have at school builds the foundation for their French,” Beaton said.

She noted a number of school libraries in the district are already extremely limited in the French books and other resources they can offer students.

“This is really critical to give our students a quality education,” she said, adding teachers are also in need of more tools. “French books do cost more … (and) it’s so hard to find resources locally.”

While the guideline state what the funding can be used for, they also state that the Ministry of Education can review, amend or supplement the funding based on the district’s reported yearly enrolment numbers.

Essentially, Beaton said, the province can revisit the funding formula and alter it if a district sees significant growth, as is the case with SD62. “We’re hoping that the (funding) formula can be changed … so we don’t end up in a situation like this again.”

So far, she noted, they’ve received a very positive response from the District, which already has a very collaborative relationship with parents.

A district committee that advises the school board on French-related topics is meeting Jan. 11, when it plans to draft a letter for potential  endorsement by trustees. The goal is that it would then be forwarded to the provincial government and local MLAs.

“It would be amazing to receive the adjusted funding, it’s so desperately needed,” Beaton said.

Phillips said the board and senior staff have asked the committee to provide a priority list to be discussed at the next board meeting in January.

katie@goldstreamgazette.com