Public schools across B.C. will be required to provide free menstrual products in their washrooms this year.

Education Minister Rob Fleming made the announcement Friday morning, pointing to research that suggests one in seven students has been forced to miss school because of their period or because they couldn't afford tampons or pads.

The new system is being rolled out right away, with the expectation all schools will have free pads and tampons available in washrooms by the end of 2019.

Speaking to reporters in Burnaby, Fleming said the new program is overdue.

"Menstrual products in our school system is something that should have been just a basic that was covered and included a long time ago," he said.

"We look forward to working with school districts and communities to make sure students get the access they need with no stigma and no barriers."

To implement the plan, the government is offering $300,000 in startup funding. It’s expected the program will cost about $300,000 every year, something the province will continue to fund going forward.

It's also giving a one-time grant of $95,000 to the United Way Period Promise Research Project, which funds research on menstrual product distribution and provides the products to a handful of non-profit groups. 

"It’s a fundamental shift to improve accessibility of menstrual products and reduce period poverty across British Columbia," said Sussanne Skidmore, who is the volunteer co-chair of the Period Promise campaign.

The announcement comes weeks after the New Westminster school board unanimously approved its own program to provide tampons and pads in elementary and high school washrooms.

New Westminster high school student Rebecca Ballard is calling the change progressive, saying it’s nice to have easy access to menstrual products, as opposed to having to ask a teacher or administrator.

"I’ve noticed in the past couple years some of my friends and people I’ve known for a long time haven’t been coming to school don’t have access to the products. They don’t have money, they might have forgot, they might have to go home if they didn’t bring enough," Ballard said. "There’s just nothing really at school to access if they feel too uncomfortable to talk about it."

Ballard says people have been using the free products since they were brought in.

"You can just go to the bathroom and get what you need instead of having to go talk to someone," she said.

Following Friday's announcement, the chair of the New Westminster school board said they're "proud to have led the way in breaking down barriers and ensuring access to free menstrual products in our schools."

"It's a basic gender-equity issue and our work helps ensure female and transgender students can manage normal bodily functions without stigma, cost, or disruptions to their learning," Mark Gifford said in a statement.

New Westminster's vote was prompted by Douglas college professor Selina Tribe, who campaigned for improved access to the products after learning her child's elementary school didn't provide any.

B.C. is the first province to bring in a program of this kind.