That familiar September feeling is in the air as thousands of students return to school throughout B.C. this week, anticipating the new school year while looking forward to reconnecting with friends and meeting new teachers. Whether they’re coming back to the school they were at last year, or moving to a new one, it’s an exciting time to embrace the opportunities and challenges the year will bring.
For many B.C. families, the effects of global inflation on day-to-day expenses, such as groceries and school costs, are a concern. The cost of living is making it tough for families to keep up with day-to-day expenses, especially for those who were already finding it hard to make ends meet.
Our government understands the importance of reducing the burden of rising costs on families. Our Student and Family Affordability Fund will provide one-time funding of $60 million to school districts to help ensure students are fed and have the school supplies they need to be successful this year. School districts will use the money to expand school meal programs, make sure students have the school supplies they need and support students in school activities, such as field trips.
As we move into fall, the health and well-being of students and staff remains a top priority. This year, school districts and independent schools will continue to have communicable disease prevention measures in place regarding COVID-19, as recommended by public health. To help keep everyone safe, all students and staff are encouraged to self-monitor for symptoms of illness, stay home when sick and to get vaccinated. Wearing face masks remains a personal choice to be respected.
School districts, supported by our government, have also been hard at work and continuing to improve the air quality in our schools. We’ve engaged expert guidance to improve indoor air quality in every classroom in the province. Since the beginning of the pandemic, B.C. and the federal government invested $166.5 million to help school districts upgrade ventilation in thousands of classrooms, with $153.4 million coming from the provincial government.
This year, the Province committed $48 million to support approximately 100 ventilation system upgrades and replacements in addition to disbursing approximately $12 million in federal funding, which has been targeted to address all classrooms and portables that don’t include mechanical ventilation via standalone high-efficiency particulate absorbing (HEPA) filtration systems. Information about these improvements is listed on school district websites.
And as more and more families move to our beautiful province, we are making the necessary investments to ensure students have the best learning environment possible. This week, thousands of students are walking through the doors of new or improved classrooms. We strengthened that commitment in our most recent budget with a historic $3.1-billion three-year school capital budget, which will help us build on the work we’ve already done.
We know that at the heart of every great community is a wonderful school full of excellent teachers and staff. I want to acknowledge all school and district staff, trustees and education partners who have provided such extraordinary and exemplary service during these challenging times. Your sustained commitment to supporting the growth and development of B.C.’s children and youth are deeply appreciated by parents, families and our government. I wish you all a very happy and successful year ahead.