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While many B.C. school boards are struggling with declining enrolments and school closings, one is booming. Its student population has almost tripled in 15 years and it’s looking to find or build new schools across the province.
No, the boom is not among religious schools or private schools for the children of the well-off. It’s in the public francophone school system, which provides education for students who qualify, under the Canadian Charter of Rights, to receive their education in French.
There hasn’t been an unusual increase in French speakers coming to the province. Instead, francophone families in B.C. are being pitched energetically by the Conseil Scolaire Francophone de la Colombie Britannique about the advantages the board offers. Those include one laptop per student, higher than average graduation rates, free bus service up to Grade 8, and, for a decade before the rest of the province caught up, all-day kindergarten .
“We have been fairly aggressive in promoting the program,” said Mario Cyr, the French school board’s superintendent. “We are in a competition. We realize that.”
The board benefits from extra federal funding and an anomaly in the provincial school funding formula – one that provides school districts with additional money based on how far their schools are from the board office – to offer a little more.
In the 2010/2011 school year, for example, the francophone system, with a board office in Richmond and schools that range from Prince George to Revelstoke, had $68-million to serve its 4,602 students. A rural school district with a similar size student body, Kootenay Lake, got $49-million in funding for its 4,792 students for 2011/12.