AMS signs province-wide plea for Student Choice Initiative repeal

President Martinez warns against precedent set by education reform 

Student unions signed the letter on Jan. 29. 
On Jan. 29, student unions from across Canada signed an open letter criticizing Ontario’s Student Choice Initiative. 
 
The announced initiative allows post-secondary students to opt out of “non-essential” fees that fund student-led clubs and organizations. The open letter calls Ford’s recent educational finance reforms “a firm step backwards” which will result in more student debt and less access to affordable post-secondary education. 
 
The letter was collectively drafted and revised by student representatives from universities across Ontario and signed by more than 70 students’ associations from across Canada, claiming to represent over 1.3 million post-secondary students. It was addressed to Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities Merrilee Fullerton. 

The AMS was one of the student unions involved in the drafting and publication of the letter.
 
“Everything that the AMS is able to provide would be impacted by this [change]” President Miguel Martinez said in an interview with The Journal. “Anything from a bus pass to peer support services to the Queen’s Pub to the Publishing & Copy Center could potentially be under threat.”
 
According to Martinez, opt-outs could threaten the funding for orientation week, the Academic Affairs and Social Issues Commissions, and committees for environmental stability and mental health. 
 
He cited the significant employment opportunities that could be eliminated by threats to funding. “This initiative, here at Queen’s alone, could eliminate close to a 1,000 [jobs],” he said. 
 
The letter indicated that without “stable, predictable funding, student unions will be forced to end a wide variety of programs and services.” 
 
It urges Premier Ford to repeal the Student Choice Initiative and consult with student associations before moving forward. The letter compares the Student Choice Initiative to “allowing voters to opt-out of paying their taxes to police services or libraries.”
 
Martinez additionally pointed to fees being passed through frequent referendums. Every three years, several student activity fees are up for renewal, cancellation, or adjustment on the basis of a popular vote. 
 
“Fees do get cut sometimes,” Martinez said, “but students have continued to support these fees because they continue to support the initiatives that the fees are going to.”
 
“This is an initiative that won’t necessarily just impact students in Ontario: it sets precedent on a national scale.”
 
The sentiment is echoed in the letter, warning, “students will be less safe, more vulnerable to failure, and less able to gain the skills and work-related experience they’ll need to find jobs after graduation.”
 
Among the Province’s other changes to OSAP, the Ford government cut grant-based funding and removed the six-month post-graduation interest-free grace period for tuition.
 
The program also redefines the designation of mature student by requiring students to be out of high school for six years instead of four before qualifying as an independent. 
 
The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance has since published a forum where students can share how the recent change have affected them. 
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