The Saskatchewan government increased operational funding to K-12 education by 2.5 per cent in the 2023-24 budget, but the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) and the Saskatchewan School Boards Association (SSBA) say that falls short of what’s needed.
“Saskatchewan students are losing out with this budget,” STF president Samantha Becotte said after the budget release on Wednesday.
The province’s 27 school divisions are receiving $2.04 billion in operating funding in 2022-23, a $49.4-million increase from last year’s budget.
The STF said that with inflation, a five per cent increase to operational funding was the minimum required to maintain last year’s operating levels. Becotte said a 2.5 per cent increase in amounts to a cut.
“In the end, students are going to have less support next year. School divisions are going to be tasked with difficult decisions once again to decide what programs or what supports are going to ultimately be cut,” he said.
“I hear from teachers regularly who are feeling burnout because everything just falls on their plate and they want what’s best for kids. They want to work with families, but there just isn’t the time and the resources and the professional supports.”
Becotte said the STF wants funding that does not just meet current needs, but ensures long-term success for students.
“They talked about creating a budget that’s growth that works for everyone, but it’s not working for our students.”
The STF also highlighted a report from the Fraser Institute that said per-student funding in Saskatchewan has seen the province go from first in 2012-13 to sixth in 2019-20. It said more than $400 million more would be needed in the education operating budget to restore per-student funding to what it was in 2012-13.
“Saskatchewan is in a strong financial position. The government has the money to invest in education. It is simply refusing to make students a priority,” Becotte said.
School boards say budget ‘erodes’ public education
When the budget was released, SSBA president Jaimie Smith-Windsor acknowledged that there was a small increase.
“However, we are concerned that this budget contributes to the erosion of the publicly funded education system in Saskatchewan,” she said.
“We were expecting and hoping for a budget that meets the expectations of covering the cost of inflation and covering enrollment growth in this province.”
Smith-Windsor said the budget will “present some challenges.”
“It’s becoming more and more difficult to find the resources to deliver the kind of quality education that our students and our communities deserve.”
The SSBA said how each board is affected will depend on how the education funding is distributed.
“We have noticed that the ability of boards to deliver services to students has been eroded over the last several years. School boards are facing uncertainty and may have difficult decisions to make, once again.”
The minister says the budget meets needs
Last July, the Saskatchewan government approved $20 million in one-time funding for school divisions to help with inflationary costs.
Minister of Education Dustin Duncan said the government provides funding based on enrolment, but if projections are wrong an in-year increase is possible. Last fall, $15.5 million was provided for enrollment growth.
As of last fall, there were more than 189,900 kids in the provinces’ school divisions, an increase of 3,840 registered students in provincial kindergarten to Grade 12. It is the largest enrollment growth for Saskatchewan schools in more than 20 years.
“If [school divisions] projections are wrong for whatever reason, we’ll look to do what we did this year and provide some in-year money,” Duncan said.
This year’s budget also includes $7 million in annualized money for 200 educational assistants.
Duncan said he had met with both the STF and SSBA, and mentioned the $400 million increased funding the STF had publicly called for pre-budget.
“I know that in the last couple of days they were asking for $400 million, which on a $2-billion budget is over a 20 per cent increase.”
Duncan said the federation had come down from $400 million to five per cent and called it a “moving number.”
“This [budget] does provide dollars for enrollment growth, it does provide dollars for inflationary pressures. It does provide for that $7 million in EA funds to keep those 200 EA’s that we’re funding in the classroom.”
He said the government’s creation of the new Saskatchewan Distance Learning Corporation for $23 million will help school divisions.
“School divisions will no longer have an expense related to providing for distance learning, but they will keep the money for those students. I think that’s going to free up some money.”
CUPE slams budget
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents 7,000 educational support workers in Saskatchewan. issued a news release Monday critical of the K-12 budget.
“The government is quick to brag that funding for education has never been higher. But an increase of 2.5 per cent does not come close to covering inflationary and enrollment increases. Four school divisions are seeing outright funding cuts at a time where the province has a $1-billion surplus,” said Omar Murray, chair of CUPE Saskatchewan’s education workers’ steering committee.
CUPE is also called for “an end to private school funding.”
Murray also called the new distance learning Crown corporation “questionable.”
“This money could be better utilized to support the public education system.”
Education budget debated in question period Monday
On Monday in the question period, Opposition education critic Matt Love referred to the concerns of the STF and SSBA.
“It’s clear that cuts are going to happen in our classrooms again.”
Love asked Duncan to “guarantee” no teachers or EA’s would lose their jobs due to the budget.
Duncan said some school divisions would see more than 2.5 per cent, while others would see less based on enrollment.
“What we’ve tried to do in the operating grant for school divisions is to provide additional enrollment growth dollars, CPP and EI enhancements that have been announced by the federal government as well as non-salary inflation.”
Duncan told the assembly that since 2013, there are 345 more teachers in classrooms an increase of 3.6 per cent.
Duncan also referenced numbers from Statistics Canada in 2021 that show in primary and secondary education, Saskatchewan leads all provinces in terms of consolidated per capita funding.
Teachers will head back to the bargaining table this spring, as the collective agreement signed in 2019 expires on Aug. 31, 2023.
Duncan said Monday the impact of the new teacher contract on the education operating grant for this year will be known once an agreement is reached.