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Ecole de Bellegarde is located in Bellegarde, Sask., in the southeast corner of the province close to the border with Manitoba. (CBC/SCR)

Saskatchewan's highest court says the province is not legally required to pay for francophone students from Alberta and Manitoba to attend schools here.

This month's Appeal Court of Saskatchewan decision potentially means a big tuition hike for Manitoba students who go to a French school in Bellegarde, Sask., but it likely won't have an immediate impact in other regions.

It's the latest development in a long-standing money dispute between Saskatchewan and the province's french school board, the Conseil Scolaire Fransaskois, with schools in Bellegarde and Lloydminster at the centre.

'I agree that, as a matter of general principle, Saskatchewan does not have an obligation to pay for the minority language education of students who reside outside of the province.' — Justice Robert Richards

The French board says it's been chronically underfunded. In previous court decisions in 2011 and 2012, it received an extra $5.6 million to hire teachers, pay salaries and build up the Lloydminster school in a new location.

However, more than half the students attending the school in the border city of Lloydminster are from Alberta. Many of the École de Bellegarde students are from Manitoba and attend after tuition of $12,000 a year is paid.

The province says that's too low and effectively forces it to subsidize the Franco-Manitobans.

The government argued it shouldn't have to do that and the appeal court agreed.

"I agree that, as a matter of general principle, Saskatchewan does not have an obligation to pay for the minority language education of students who reside outside of the province," said Justice Robert Richards, who wrote the decision on behalf of the three-judge panel that also included Chief Justice John Klebuc and Justice Neal Caldwell.

Tuition for Manitoba students to increase

A spokesman for the French school board said the result of the decision is that tuition for the Manitoba students will increase from $12,000 to around $17,000.

However, the judge also said his ruling won't have a practical impact on the Lloydminster money, because there's no simple way to split up the costs between Saskatchewan and non-Saskatchewan students.

"This is so because, regardless of whether there are 60 or 30 students in the school, it would still be necessary to run the furnace, mop the floors, clean the bathrooms and shovel the sidewalks," Richards said.

A spokeman for the French school board said he hoped the decision would lead to a school agreement between Alberta and Saskatchewan to cover the Lloydminster francophone school.

A spokesperson for the Education Ministry said the government is pleased with the declaration that Saskatchewan doesn't have to pay for out-of-province students.