The Ministry of Education has revised its criteria for what constitutes an underprivileged school and how much food aid they should get. The Ministry’s food aid program aims to help high schools from underprivileged communities provide subsidized meals and snacks. Although the total budget of $7.7 million remains unchanged, many schools, particularly in outer regions, have seen their allowance plummet or disappear.
The Samares School Board in Lanaudière, for example, went from receiving $190 226 to $7081 in two school years. In the Eastern Quebec, the Chic-Chocs School Board went from $33 090 this year to $5 269 for next year. Chic-Chocs representative Marie-Noëlle Dion called the situation deplorable, particularly for three of their schools that will have to do without food aid all together.
The both the entire Outaouais and Laurentides region are now devoid of high schools providing subsidized meals.
The matter was the subject of a heated debate on Wednesday in the National Assembly where Education Minister Sébastien Proulx tried to defend the government’s policies.
“The money for the food aid program was maintained and indexed,” hammered Proulx, “it is meant for our most underprivileged schools, and that has not changed. If the rules have changed in the last few years, it was to correct inequalities in the sense that in some communities there were privileged schools receiving food aid.”
To which the official spokesperson for education of the opposition Alexandre Cloutier replied: “For the entire region of Outaouais, as of next September, there is zero funding! Are you saying there is not one kid who goes to school on an empty stomach in Outaouais?”
André Villeneuve, MNA of Berthier, piled on: “In Lanaudière, it’s four high schools, it’s hundreds of kids who will go to school on en empty stomach!”
Where is the money going?
The Ministry determines the amount of food aid it will give to each school depending on where it ranks on the government’s indexes of deprivation. Those indexes reflect the proportion of students from families who are below the low-income threshold as well as their socio-economic background, which takes into account the level of education of the mother and whether or not the parents are employed.
Minister Proulx said that the calculations have been adjusted to focus on the schools that score 9 or 10 out of 10 on these indexes. At the time of publication, FTB is waiting for specifications from the Ministry about the nature of these adjustments and the number of schools that supposedly benefited from them.
Most of the schools scoring 9s and 10s are presumably in Montreal, where child poverty is particularly glaring. A recent study by Tonino Esposito of Université de Montréal and Catherine Roy of McGill found that sixteen of the 30 neighborhoods with the most underprivileged children in the province are in Montreal. Montréal-Nord is at the very top of the chart.
In any case, many children who were only a year ago considered underprivileged enough to get access to food aid are now considered as fortunate enough to do without it. Professionals and politicians are accusing the government of robbing Peter to pay Paul in education, while they break the bank for lobbies and corporations. Or, As Cloutier put it : “How can a Minister who is swimming in budgetary surplus justify this sort of measure?”
* Featured image: École secondaire de L’Île, Outaouais. From HockeyAcademy