Schools forced to come clean on costs

  • Schools will now have to provide a breakdown of the sums requested by parents
  • The measure would apply to high schools from September onwards
  • Elementary schools would have until 2015

On paper education is free. In reality, parents are forced to dip into their wallets quite often, and a school year can end up costing a considerable amount.

It is difficult to pinpoint how much, exactly. These expenses are required on an ad hoc basis, and parents (as well as the school) struggle to put a finger on the total amounts required.

On the 17th of July the Parliament of the French Community will vote on a decree which should bring some clarity to the issue.  Should it pass, schools will have to explain themselves by providing parents with “an estimate and breakdown of the amount of expenses requested before the start of the school year.”

And that is not the end of it. Educational establishments will also have to give parents a breakdown of the amounts that have already been requested. This will force them to actually calculate the sums involved. This is impossible with the ad-hoc system actually in use.

All of this was announced a few months back, but the drafted decree outlines how it will actually work. At most, the breakdown will be delivered monthly, but it must be sent at least once every four months.  Each statement will need to show “all requested expenses, the amounts involved, where the money is going, and whether it is mandatory or not”.

One accommodation for schools is that the breakdown can be sent in advance, as long as it matches what is eventually asked of parents. The decree makes this aspect clear: “Costs that do not appear on a statement cannot ever be requested from parents.”

Set to be put to the vote next week, the decree would apply from the start of the 2013 school year for high schools and 2015 for elementary schools. Marie-Dominique Simonet, minister of education, thought it best to give primary school heads more time to deal with the changes, given that it will involve an increase in workload and they cannot generally count on administrative staff to help out, unlike their secondary school counterparts.

The Ligue des familles is partly satisfied

This initiative has not come out of nowhere. The Ligue des familles has in fact been calling for it for many years. Simonet declared that she was ready to impose the move in February, following the publication of a survey carried out by the parental interests group that revealed that 19 % of parents are unsure of existing rules as regards extra school costs while just 5 % actually knew the rules.

Patrick Binot, secretary-general of the Ligue des familles, has welcomed the decree: “We have been asking for transparency, but of course that’s not enough. We also need to look at the actual amounts. There needs to be an upper limit that schools can actually ask for.”

As far as Binot is concerned, putting a ceiling on these expenses is doubly necessary now that there are plans to make cuts to the back-to-school allowance (reductions of 15 % in 2013 and 15 % again in 2014 are being considered). “It’s an infringement on family allowances, and the parents that we surveyed on-line think it’s important. And a majority of them believe that this measure will reduce the amounts they spend on leisure and clothing. Their children’s clothing, in other words.”

Simonet is against the idea of a costs ceiling, and it is likely that Marie-Martine Schyns, who will succeed her on 17 July, will follow in her footsteps. A representative from her office explains, “If we set an upper limit, schools that request amounts that are much lower than the limit may wonder why they didn’t just ask for more…”

PIERRE BOUILLON

 

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