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CBE cuts transit rebate program as it deals with provincial budget cuts

Frustrated parents voiced concern over a recent Calgary Board of Education (CBE) decision to cancel their transit rebate program, citing provincial budget cuts to education.

On Dec. 10, parents received an email from the school board. The email stated fee increases for both Calgary Transit users and low-income students who take a yellow school bus who would have previously been fee free.

Rev. Anna Greenwood-Lee, spokesperson for Calgary Alliance for the Common Good and parent of school-aged kids, received the email and expressed her concerns via Twitter.

“Families who are living just above the poverty line have a lot of pressures on them economically, and travelling is expensive, and we need to get kids to school,” she said.

Others also posted their frustration on social media, including Twitter user Seumas Bruce.

“Just found out CBE has canceled Calgary Transit rebates, due to UCP cuts to public education,” he writes. “I have two kids on a designated CT route to school so this is going to cost me an extra $112/month (retroactive to Sept). How is this ‘Making life better for Albertans’?”

Previously, families were eligible for transit rebates per student that attended their designated community school and reside more than 2.4 km from the school. The rebate was up to $54.90 per child monthly, to a maximum of $549.

In the email, the school board cites an “$8 million reduction in transportation funding,” and say they will be using their $5 million infrastructure maintenance and renewal funding to offset the cost. In addition to an increase in cost for students using Calgary Transit, students using yellow school buses, regardless of income level, will have to pay the $365 yearly fee.

The CBE provided a statement on the cancellation that said they’re implementing a number of strategies to address the overall cut to their budget and hope this will help minimize financial impact on families of the 23,000 students who travel on yellow school buses.

“I don’t know what it’s going to mean for every family but it’s going to mean less food on the table, or less money for other things or no ability to save at all,” said Greenwood-Lee.

Families unable to pay transportation costs can apply for help

For families who cannot pay, the school board recommends applying for a waiver, which means declaring an inability to pay for school fees. This would not apply to Calgary Transit passes.

For transit, families can apply to the Fair Entry Program through the City of Calgary. That’s a program that includes low-income transit passes, which Greenwood-Lee and Common Good fought for during recent budget adjustments at city hall.  

“We were at City Hall a couple weeks ago and managed to get them to keep sliding scale, low-income transit pass rates at the current rate in the 2020 budget, which was a win because they talked about raising them by about 250 per cent,” said Greenwood-Lee.  

Greenwood-Lee said that these cuts may have been introduced as an effort to avoid letting go of teachers. On Dec. 10, the CBE sent another email to parents that indicated they’re taking steps to address their overall $32 million budget shortfall. This doesn’t include the layoff of 317 teachers on temporary contract with the CBE, but will include the transit fee increases as well as cuts to administration, reduction to school-based budgets and using reserves and reducing capital spending.

“The province has both increased the education property tax and decreased funding to education,” said Greenwood-Lee.

“I think they need to be held to account for that and I think people need to contact their MLAs and complain about this and say that cutting things like education and especially cutting the busing that gets kids to their places of education just doesn’t make any sense.”