Carrie Branstetter is a teacher with Nelson-based CHEK ABC, and also a parent of students who take part in independent online education. She’s concerned by upcoming provincial cuts to funding for 16 online only schools in B.C. Photo submitted

Carrie Branstetter is a teacher with Nelson-based CHEK ABC, and also a parent of students who take part in independent online education. She’s concerned by upcoming provincial cuts to funding for 16 online only schools in B.C. Photo submitted

‘Caught off guard’: B.C.’s online independent schools criticize funding cuts

The education ministry is changing funding for 16 schools

Carrie Branstetter is a believer in online education.

She has two children who do their schooling at home, with a third set to begin kindergarten in the fall. She’s also a teacher with Nelson’s CHEK ABC, which offers Christian-based online education for kindergarten to Grade 12 students.

The opportunity to teach her children and have them learn at their own pace with flexible schedules, Branstetter says, has brought her family closer together.

“That allows my husband and I to work and teach our kids at the same time,” said Branstetter from her home in Creston.

“It gives us the freedom to visit family when we want to. We school all year round so that we can take those breaks whenever we need them. And it’s been really good for family relationships.”

Branstetter’s children are among the 9,375 students enrolled in independent distributed learning (IDL), or online only schools, according to the Ministry of Education.

But beginning July 1, 16 IDL schools including CHEK ABC will have their funding slashed following an announcement on May 4 that took educators and parents by surprise. Previously, schools were funded $3,843 per full-time equivalent student. That will change to $3,050 per student for the fall semester, or half the funding per student at a public distributed learning school.

A spokesperson for the ministry told the Star the funding change was made to bring independent online schools in line with what their public counterparts receive relative to funding for brick and mortar schools.

Public online schools, they said, receive $1,460 per full-time equivalent student less than students at physical schools, while IDL students were previously receiving just $500 less than those attending B.C.’s 351 independent physical schools.

“This funding approach isn’t equitable and this rate change addresses that issue,” said the spokesperson.

Out of the 545,805 students in public schools, 14,000 students are enrolled in distributed learning programs, according to the education ministry.

The number of students turning to online education, Branstetter says, is partly what makes the cuts to independent options frustrating.

“IDL schools are really resourceful, and creative and resilient and we work with what’s given to us,” she said, “and I think that we do a good job. However, I think we would be the most effective if we were funded at the same rate as the public distributed learning schools.”

The cuts also represent a backtracking on a pre-election promise by Premier John Horgan not to cut independent education funding. In a March 2017 letter to the Federation of Independent School Associations of B.C. (FISA), Horgan said the NDP had no plans to change funding.

“Our aim if we form government,” Horgan wrote, “will be to strengthen and improve our public education system, which has been eroded due to a lack of funding.”

Independent distributed learning schools are required to have B.C. certified teachers who create learning plans for students based on the provincial curriculum. They also meet with families and prepare report cards.

FISA represents over 300 independent schools in B.C. The organization’s executive director Shawn Chisholm said he was stunned by the funding announcement.

“We were totally caught off guard. Not only with kind of the timing, but I would say the Ministry of Education has been very engaging with us and consulting with us,” said Chisholm.

“So normally when there are policy decisions happening, we talk and are never blindsided, but this certainly did. This was not anticipated at all.”

Chisholm added FISA has since been in contact with the ministry, but he couldn’t provide further specifics except to say the government has been engaged in the talks.

Gabe Linder is principal of Surrey-based Traditional Learning Academy Online, which has operated since 2002 and currently has approximately 1,200 students enrolled.

He said part of the surprise was the timing of the announcement. Linder said many school budgets, including his own, were already completed. Now he needs to account for what he says will be a roughly $800,000 loss in funding.

“It forced all of us schools into a terrible position of having to readjust all of our business, financial, budget plans for the coming year,” he said. “We’ve been having to cut in all kinds of places from staff salaries to how it impacts families.”

One of the reasons for the funding cut, according to the ministry, is that provincial funding isn’t meant to cover operating costs for IDL schools. The majority of schools, the spokesperson said, are not charging tuition.

That was true for Linder’s school prior to the announcement. He said next year will be the first Traditional Learning Academy Online charges tuition of up to $200 depending on a student’s grade level or individual courses taken.

Although it may not sound like a lot, Linder says his school’s families are often relying on a single income so one parent can remain home with their children.

Those students, he said, may also have learning challenges requiring additional support from the school. The ministry has said children with special needs are not affected by the funding cuts, but Linder argues there are plenty of students not considered part of special education that still need extra resources.

“That’s been one of our big worries right now. Just making sure we can still help those kids who need the most help. They generally come to us already from a public school as a last resort.”

A misconception about IDL schools according to Branstetter is they are primarily attended by children from wealthy families. CHEK ABC, she said, has many students living below the poverty line.

“These families aren’t educating at home because they get money or some other thing,” she said. “They’re doing it because they have no other choice in the case of their family due to mental health or bullying or whatever. It’s the best option for their kids.”

Branstetter said families can voice their concerns by signing an online petition asking the government to either reverse its decision or increase funding. That petition, which can be found here, had nearly 14,000 signatures as of Monday.

Branstetter hopes the government at least agrees to delay the cuts by a year, which would give schools more time to prepare. Two months notice, she said, was not sufficient.

“That’s why I’m doing this fight,” said Branstetter. “I’m not sure that will have any effect but I am going down with the fight because my families deserve it.”

@tyler_harper | tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Education

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

District of Vanderhoof municipal office. (Aman Parhar/Omineca Express)
Vanderhoof district rejects FOI request for business name

Officials will release more information about the restaurant on May 21

Audrey McKinnon is seeking the NDP nomination for the federal riding of Cariboo-Prince George. (Twitter)
Audrey McKinnon puts name forward for NDP for federal election

McKinnon preparing for a contested nomination for Prince George-Cariboo riding

Michael Rees at his studio on the first floor of the old Burrard Market Square building. (Aman Parhar/Omineca Express)
Painter and print-maker showcased at Vanderhoof Street Art Show

Michael Rees uses narrative in a majority of his work

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has suspended indoor dining at restaurants and pubs until at least April 19 in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. sets new COVID-19 daily record with 1,293 cases Thursday

New order allows workplace closures when infections found

The new 3,500 hectare conservancy in Tahltan territory is located next to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (BC Parks Photo)
New conservancy protects sacred Tahltan land near Mount Edziza Provincial Park

Project is a collaboration between Skeena Resources, conservation groups and the TCG

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Vehicle launched into B.C. Walmart removed following rescue of trapped workers

Crews cut new hole in parkade wall to remove vehicle safely

Four members with Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans were out at Cultus Lake on March 28 and 29 hauling trash out of the waters. (Henry Wang)
PHOTOS: Out-of-town divers remove 100s of pounds of trash from Cultus Lake

Members of Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans hauled out 470 pounds of trash over two days

As of Saturday, April 10, people born in 1961 are the latest to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. (Black Press files)
B.C. residents age 60+ can now register to get their COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine registration is now open to people born in 1961 or earlier

A new saline gargle test, made in B.C., will soon be replacing COVID-19 nasal swab tests for kids. (PHSA screenshot)
Take-home COVID-19 tests available for some B.C. students who fall ill at school

BC Children’s Hospital plans to provide 1,200 kits to Vancouver district schools this April

Ruming Jiang and his dog Chiu Chiu are doing fine following a brush with hypothermia that saw several people work together to get them out of the Fraser River near Langley’s Derby Reach Park on March 25, 2021 (Special to the Advance Times)
Man finds men who rescued him from drowning in B.C.’s Fraser River

A grateful Ruming Jiang says he will thank them again, this time in person when the pandemic ends

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s ICUs see near-record of COVID-19 patients last week as variant cases double

Last week, Canadian hospitals treated an average of 2,500 patients with COVID-19, daily, up 7% from the previous week

Most Read