British Columbia

B.C. teachers' strike: Government asks some parents for money back

Parents who used their $40 a day during the 2014 teacher's strike to pay for education at independent schools are being asked to pay the money back. A former superintendent of schools says that's unfair.

Government says it was clear that parents could not use money on independent school education

B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong offered parents $40 a day per child for every day the 2014 teacher's strike dragged on through the 2014-2015 school year. (CBC)

The provincial government is demanding that parents who received $40 per day, per student during the 2014 teachers' strike and then enrolled their kids in private schools pay the money back.

That's led a former superintendent of schools to write in a Times-Colonist column that parents would have been "better off borrowing money from the Mob" than to have accepted the money from the government.

"I'm sitting here holding a letter to a parent … from the Ministry of Finance. It's a collection notice," Geoff Johnson told On The Coast guest host Gloria Macarenko.

"That's pretty drastic stuff, given the fact that when government originally sent this money out, near as I can tell, it was as an unsecured loan. There was no credit check. There was no guarantee, and there was no indication of the fact that the money would have to be paid back."

Johnson argues the decision of some parents to put their children into independent schools was a reasonable one, as at the time, both the government and the B.C. Teacher's Federation publicly said there was no end in sight to the labour dispute.

In all, parents asked to repay the money owe the government $520 per child.

Finance Ministry responds

Speaking on background, a finance ministry spokesman said it was very clear on the application website, that parents had to go to for the $40-a-day payments, that the money could not be used for independent school education.

In an email to the CBC, the spokesman said information was posted online and a notice about eligibility requirements was posted on the website.

The spokesman said that whenever a parent hovered their mouse over the question, "Which B.C. public school is the student attending in 2014/2015?" on the application website, a pop-up would appear that stated, "Only students attending B.C. public schools in the current school year are eligible for this program."

However, when the $40 a day payments were announced, Finance Minister Mike de Jong was more ambiguous about what parents could do with the money.

"Parents can utilize that money to acquire tutoring for their children. They can use the money to explore other educational opportunities as they see fit and for some parents it'll be basic daycare," he was quoted as saying on Jul. 31, 2014.

In a statement, the government said parents of 302,080 B.C. students applied for the $40 a day, and "parents of about 1,350 children were asked to provide documentation to show their child was eligible for the program; otherwise they were asked to return the payment by September 30, 2015."

To hear the full interview with Geoff Johnson, click the audio labelled: Some parents who received $40 a day during teacher's strike asked to pay it back

With files from Liam Britten


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