Being privileged means it is our job to ensure that we don't install roadblocks to those with less means than we have. It certainly means we should not take from the poor to give to the rich but I see that happening in our school system. When we take public funds and resources, and distribute them to students unequally, depending on the income of families, we are putting up roadblocks.
In a publicly funded school system, I think it is fair of us to expect that there would be equal opportunity for each child, regardless of family income.
For those of us middle or high-income earners, we budget for school supplies, extracurricular activity and sports fees. We can pay the fees with varying difficulty, but we manage. The lower someone falls on the income scale, the more difficult this is.
I will speak mostly to the "us" that are reading this paper. We take pride, as we should, in our free and meritorious society, that facilitates our social mobility. We generally elect governments that are in favour of free markets and equal opportunity, and this has resulted in our country being among the best places to live on the planet. Even those people who begin their working life as working poor do not stay in that position through their lifetime, in fact, only about 10 per cent do, so for the vast majority of Canadians, we have it pretty good. I see no one pushing a small boat off our shores to head for a better place to live. This doesn't mean we should repair disparities when we see them.
Schools host and partially fund their extracurricular activities and sports teams, so this portion is a burden shared by every taxpayer, regardless of income, regardless of their child's participation. The ministry of education allows for schools to charge fees on these extracurricular activities, but that doesn't mean it is wise to do it. The harm to school culture is something we all need to consider, even if we think it is okay that "poor" kids can't participate equally.
If sports are too expensive for schools to participate in without charging families anywhere from $100 to $2,000 per year per student, why not change how we do school sports? Why not have school teams that compete against the other schools in the city and then one (free to the student) sponsored city team made up of the best players that would travel? The benefits to school cohesiveness and moral, when every child has an equal opportunity to tryout for a team, could go a long way to improving the school culture.
If field trips or art programs are too expensive, why not reduce the costs or number of trips each year, so that every child can go regardless of their family's financial flexibility that year? Or find a sponsor to cover the cost? I find it astonishing that we are okay with having extra-curricular activities on the class calendar, but not everyone can go to see, touch, and feel, the subject the entire class has been working on.
Others may have better ideas on how to correct this disparity, but we need to change this. I am not advocating for more money to be put into the public system to cover these costs, but I am advocating for a change in how we spend our education funding so that the school experience is as equal as possible for every child, regardless of current family financial status. It is up those of us with political power, or social capital, today, to make our schools more equitable for all.
We will all benefit in the end.