Wednesday, 17 Apr 2024

Education sector says Sask. budget falls short of financial pressures

Another Saskatchewan budget, and another letdown for educators. Despite $26 million being added to classroom funding, groups like the Saskatchewan School Board Association (SSBA) says it is still not enough to meet current financial pressures.

“We’re expecting about 1,000 new students this fall, so rough math, a little over $10,000 per student is the provincial average, so that’s another $10 million just for enrolment growth,” SSBA president Shawn Davidson said.

The new funding puts per-student funding at $10,942 based on projected 2019/20 enrolment.

“At the end of the day, when you consider utility costs, fuel costs, transportation costs flowing from that are all going to be up considerably this year. This budget is actually going to fall a little short of our inflationary pressures,” Davidson said.

The $26 million is also to help cover the new collective bargaining agreement with the Saskatchewan Teacher’s Federation, a $10 million personnel cost. About $1.5 million is set to go to the Saskatchewan Professional Teacher’s Regulatory Board.

This year’s K-12 school operating budget is $1.9 billion, objectively the largest in provincial history. The additional $26 million puts funding at $2 million higher than 2016/17 levels. In the 2017/18 budget classrooms saw a $54 million cut. That was partially restored last year with $30 million.

Between the 2016/17 school years and the current one, Saskatchewan schools added about 5,000 students based on education ministry data.

For STF president Patrick Maze, the new budget still leaves challenges in the classroom.

“We know that this budget doesn’t address the incredible increase in enrolment, over 8,000 new students [since 2015/16], and of those students, many of them require extra supports in the classroom,” Maze said.

“We have students who are speaking English for the first time and we have students who are experiencing mental health issues. There’s a lot of diversity that’s going on with today’s youth.”

While both Davidson and Maze have issues with the budget, they appreciate the funding increase. Both said it is an encouraging sign that the province saying they are committed to education isn’t all talk.

Going forward, the education budget has a new line for “innovation” valued at $500,000.

“One of the things I want to sit down with our education partners and talk about is, how can we innovate? How can we do a better job of delivering programming in our classrooms,” Education Minister Gordon Wyant said.

Debate in the Legislative Assembly centered on education funding has been ongoing since the 2017 cut. During the first post-budget question period, Thursday, Wyant said you can’t solve all issues in education just by adding money.

That’s something critic Carla Beck caught onto.

“Too often with this government, we hear innovation as code for doing more with less,” she said.

Outside classroom funding, the 2019/20 budget includes a joint-use replacement school in Regina for St. Pius and Argyle Elementary, a joint-use replacement school in Moose Jaw for four elementary schools, early plans to replace St. Francis in Saskatoon, and money to finish construction of new replacement schools in Weybrun and Rosthern.

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