Education needs $400M more funding to meet needs: Sask. Teachers’ Federation

Education needs $400M more funding to meet needs: Sask.  Teachers’ Federation

‘Our government talks about record funding and inflation, and the reality that we see in the classroom doesn’t match their messaging.’

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The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) wants to see the provincial government commit to an investment of at least $400 million more for public education when officials deliver the annual budget later this week.

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“This is the responsibility of the government. Our public schools are a public service that should be funded,” said SFT president Samantha Becotte, in a recent interview.

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Classrooms are still in “triage,” she said, repeating an adjective used by the STF earlier this fall. School divisions are now feeling “in crisis” as continued cuts to staff and programming causes strain.

“We’ve just exceeded the level of triage and now we’re beyond that. We have to, full-stop, make sure we turn our direction. Otherwise, the system just continues to crumble,” Becotte said.

Becotte said an investment of $400 million would bring Saskatchewan back to the funding levels seen in 2013, when the province was claimed to be one of the top spenders in the country.

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The figure comes from a recent report by the Fraser Institute, examining public education spending across Canada over the last decade.

The report found that per-student operational funding in Saskatchewan decreased by 14.2 per cent between 2013 and 2020, the second largest decline behind Alberta.

Per-student spending was just over $14,000 in 2019-2020, compared to $15,314 in 2015-16, just before a $54 million cut in 2017.

Contextual analysis outlines that if Saskatchewan had maintained per-student spending levels since 2013, the difference would have meant about $460 million more in the 2019-20 budget, adjusted for inflation.

Becotte said the province needs to make up that shortfall this year, as a first step in addressing what STF views as a decade of underfunding.

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“We just want to get back to the supports that were available in previous years,” Becotte said.

“These challenges weren’t created in a year, and we know they’re not going to be solved in a year, but that $400 million is what we would consider a decent investment in education.”

In the 2022-23 budget, education spending saw $1.99 billion in school operating funding across 27 school divisions, with an increase of $29.4 million over the 2021-22 school year.

A one-time $20 million top-up allocation was added in July to alleviate the need for school divisions to dip into reserves, and another $15.5 million in November for enrollment pressure, for a total boost of 1.7 per cent over 2022.

Becotte said despite the top-ups, the education sector is still operating on tight resources with 300 fewer teachers than in 2021 but over 3,800 more students in classrooms since last year.

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Students are increasingly presenting more complex needs that aren’t being met, she added, and support staff like counselors, therapists and speech pathologists have been some of the first cuts to balance budgets.

Enrolment growth hit 2.1 per cent this year, the largest Saskatchewan has seen in 20 years. Becotte noted it’s a percentage rate that’s higher than the annual funding increase last spring.

“It wasn’t enough to meet the needs,” said Becotte. “If we see that (1.7 per cent) again this year, we know it’s not going to be enough and children are going to suffer for it.”

She pointed to the widely publicized $2 billion surplus announced earlier this fall, attributed to windfall resource revenue, a portion of which was divvied out to residents as $500 affordability checks.

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“We’re not seeing those funds being reinvested into our children and our youth in this province,” she said.

A recent survey conducted internally by the STF showed that around one-third of respondents felt Premier Scott Moe and education minister Dustin Duncan were “untrustworthy” sources of information on public education.

“Our government talks about record funding and inflation, and the reality that we see in the classroom doesn’t match their messaging,” she said. “So it’s easy to feel a little bit of distrust towards those government officials.”

Most said they consider teachers to be the most trusted sources in the sector, but Becotte said teachers are feeling “exhausted” with the current state in classrooms.

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“There are increased amounts (of work) falling on their plate with fewer professional resources, and they’re feeling that stress,” she said. “It shouldn’t be falling on teachers to be advocating for the provincial government to provide more funds to public education.”

Spreading funding increases over several years would be sufficient, he said, but only if investment keeps pace with enrollment growth and inflation.

Becotte was worried that seeing divisions turn to funds and foundations to supplement out-of-classroom supports is allowing government off the hook, and supporting an under-the-table push for privatization in education.

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