Quebec wants public's opinion on new law governing school fees

The Legault government wants new rules in place before students start the next school year in September.

Settlement of class-action suit that challenged extra fees to cost school boards $153M

The provincial government wants new rules on student fees in place before the next school year begins in September 2019. (Submitted by Cathy Lloyd)

The Quebec government is looking for input as it draws up new rules over what schools can charge parents with children in the public education system.

Public consultations begin this week, and the government wants the rules in place before students start the next school year in September.

The consultations come after a class-action lawsuit against 68 of Quebec's 72 school boards over extra fees for elementary and high school students was settled last year.

In a statement to CBC News, the Education Ministry says a bill will be introduced in the National Assembly this winter so that the regulations can be implemented in time for the 2019-2020 school year.

The ministry said it will consider the opinions gathered through the consultation process as it drafts the bill.

Parents' committees seek consistency

Corinne Payne, president of the Federation of Quebec School Board Parents' Committees, says the government needs to come up with clear and consistent rules guiding fees, so that schools do not have widely different interpretations of the same law.

"I think parents realize that they can't have everything for free, but at the same time there needs to be some consistency," Payne said.

"Over the past few years, more and more fees have been added [for] parents," in part due to cuts to education, she said.

Her group and others, including school boards, teachers and parents, have already met government officials to provide input on the new rules.

QESBA's executive director, Russell Copeman, said the new law must clarify just what free education means. (CBC)

The executive director of the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA), Russell Copeman, says English boards want a definition of what exactly free education means in the province.

"We're looking for some notion of stability and clarity," he said.

"No one wants to have a repeat of a situation where schools charge for different things, school boards charge for different things."

Under the terms of the settlement of the lawsuit launched in 2016 by Daisye Marcil, a Saguenay mother of two, parents could receive up to $150 per child.

Quebec's Education Ministry says this amounts to a total pay-out from the school boards of $153 million.

The public has until Jan. 25 to weigh in on the fee rules through an online survey.

With files from Jay Turnbull