11/04/2014 07:04 EST | Updated 11/05/2014 12:59 EST

Chevron Money For B.C. Classrooms Pumps Up Debate

A corporate funding program available to B.C. schools has become a Vancouver election issue, yet again highlighting the debate over educational resources.

Chevron's Fuel Your School program will donate $1 each time drivers buy 30 litres of fuel or more at stations in five B.C. school districts this month, up to a maximum $565,000.

Surrey, which received $200,000 for 200 classroom projects last year, is being joined by Burnaby, Coquitlam, North Vancouver, and West Vancouver in this year's program.

However, Vancouver School Board chair Patti Bacchus rejected the contributions earlier this year. Bacchus, who is with Vision Vancouver, felt Chevron wasn't a "good fit" for a city that wants to have the "greenest" school district, reported Metro News.

She also questioned having teachers apply for the Chevron money, and then giving status updates on the science, technology, engineering, and math projects.

"You now have teachers being accountable to the Chevron,” she told the newspaper. "We think it’s a slippery slope."

Kirk LaPointe, the NPA candidate running for mayor against Vision Vancouver's Gregor Robertson, called the rejection of funding for "cash-strapped" schools "shameful."

He released a letter from the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council, who said it was disappointed they weren't consulted before the corporate money was turned down.

'Complementary funding'

With parent advisory committees (PACs) regularly raising money to cover school supplies and equipment, the Chevron program is an opportunity for "complementary funding," said Supt. John Lewis of the North Vancouver School District.

"The reality is there's a limit to what the tax base of the province and the community is able to sustain in terms of public services generally," he said in an interview with The Huffington Post B.C. "So you might be looking at the fact there may be costs associated with public education —we all are quite comfortable or have become accustomed to paying for our health care fees and people would argue we shouldn't be paying for health care."

Tamera Manery, a Surrey elementary school teacher, received $990 from the program last year to buy K'nex building materials and an iPad. She said it encouraged their creativity and addressed a problem she had with attendance.

"It lured them to school on time," Manery told HuffPost B.C. "When they came into the classroom in the first 15 minutes, they could interact with those manipulatives to kick off their day. It was a shift in how the day started."

Manery said Chevron did not push their name in the classroom: "They were a corporate sponsor that was backing the school system but not necessarily waving their name around. And schools are very sensitive to that."

She said she'll apply again this year for funding to buy iPads to promote math and language literacy in her Grade 4 class, and to communicate with students on the other side of the world.

Teacher investments

A Canadian charity called My Class Needs administers teachers' applications for the Chevron funding. But it also accepts public contributions to classroom requests through a Kickstarter-type website, and issues charitable tax receipts.

"We have known for a long time that teachers have invested in supports for their classroom and for their students," said founder Amy Coupal. "This creates a platform for teachers to go articulate the project they want to do and also ask for the resources they need to make that project come to life."

Some requests are so inspiring — from robotics to salmon hatching kits — that they've drawn funders from as far away as Australia, said Coupal.

The issue of classroom resources was highlighted during the B.C. public teachers' strike this summer.

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