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Costly legal battle over francophone education now underwayDecember 9, 2013

Author: Webmaster

A constitutional battle over education funding that is now before the courts could cost B.C. millions of dollars if the outcome mirrors that in some other provinces.

The francophone board of education – known as School District 93 or the Conseil Scolaire Francophone (CSF) – contends that the government has a Charter obligation to provide much more money for the education of its 5,000-plus students in schools around the province.

The lawsuit had gobbled up millions in legal bills before the trial commenced in B.C. Supreme Court last week. Whatever the outcome, it’s likely to spark an appeal (unless the parties reach an out-of-court settlement).

CSF and a group of parents are accusing the provincial government of breaching the constitutional right of francophones to education services equal to that of anglophones. They argue their students are increasingly opting for English schools because francophone schools are crowded, dilapidated and not easily accessible in some parts of the province.

CSF has a total of 38 schools and expects about $64 million in operating funds from  the province this year. That translates into per-pupil funding of $13,330 – among the highest in the province but similar to districts with widely dispersed populations.

In its profile of school districts, the ministry says it has invested more than $111.3 million in capital and seismic projects for CSF since 2001 and has committed more than $30 million for a new elementary school in Vancouver’s False Creek community.

But experience in other provinces suggests that may not be enough. The Supreme Court of Canada has sided with francophone parents in similar battles in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, as noted here.

Radio-Canada reporter Benoit Ferradini, who is covering the B.C. trial, told CBC’s On The Coast (OTC) last week that the PEI decision prompted a backlash from English-speaking families and he warned of a similar outcome here once parents realize what’s at stake.

CSF is seeking $350 million to build 21 new schools, arguing that better education facilities are imperative to the survival of the French minority in B.C., Ferradini said. Studies suggest that once children leave the French school system, they lose their language, he noted.

“The case for the French school board is to have newer, better schools to be able to compete with the English schools and to be able to finally retain more students,” he said in the interview with OTC host Stephen Quinn, which can be heard here.

Ferradini noted that some francophone schools serve such an expansive geographic area that students have to travel for up to an hour on a school bus. During the court case, CSF is expected to provide 14 examples that it considers troubling.

Both sides in this dispute have more than a dozen lawyers each, and they’re all funded by the provincial government, he said.

All of this comes at a time when Education Minister Peter Fassbender is telling B.C.’s 60 school boards that there is no more money for education.

I spoke to Ferradini today and he said he’s interested in hearing what English-speaking parents think about this lawsuit. Should B.C. cough up enough money to end the lawsuit? Or should it continue the fight? Contact him at benoit.ferradini@radio-canada.ca or leave your comments here.

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