Mandatory carbon neutrality means even bigger demands on the wallets of school boards across B.C., already facing multi-million dollar budget shortfalls.

The Surrey school district is strapped with a $12-million shortfall, meaning that programs like culinary arts could be on the chopping block.

On top of that, the province's entire public sector has to be carbon neutral this year.

For Surrey, that means paying more than $500,000 in so-called carbon offsets for its emissions.

"We're trying to reduce our carbon footprint, but it's very difficult when you're growing as rapidly as we are," Laurae McNally, Surrey school board chairperson, told CTV News.

That rapid growth is why there are so many portable classrooms set up at Surrey schools. But in these tight times, there's no money to build newer, more efficient buildings.

McNally believes the district deserves a financial break.

"They should give us a waiver for a couple of years, until we catch up," she said.

"I think the government needs to step up to the plate and give us some assistance here. What have they got against kids in Surrey and White Rock?"

But Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said there won't be any exceptions to the carbon neutrality rules.

"School boards have ways of reducing their carbon footprint, and I know Surrey's working on that, but we have to go forward with this plan -- it's a government commitment," she told CTV News.

So, where is all the money from these carbon offsets going?

The government has formed a crown corporation called Pacific Carbon Trust to invest in green projects across the province.

In all, the government anticipates about $25 million will be paid out to the trust this year from 130 different public service organizations.

"Money flows from the public sector and cannot flow back. It is going literally to private sector energy efficiency projects at ski resorts and spas, for cement companies," said Rob Fleming, the NDP's environment critic.

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Mi-Jung Lee