EAL and replacement schools: questions ahead of Sask. education budget

Questions expected to be front of mind for the education sector including EAL supports and new schools in the Saskatchewan budget.
Questions expected to be front of mind for the education sector including EAL supports and new schools in the Saskatchewan budget. File Photo / Global News

In two weeks, Saskatchewan Finance Minister Donna Harpauer will rise to deliver her second budget, one that’s promised to be balanced. Exactly what it will take will not be known until March 20, but that isn’t stopping people from asking questions.

Education is one of the central areas under the pre-budget microscope.

“I expect the minister is hearing the same challenges I am and has had exchanges with people in education. There’s no doubt to that,” education critic Carla Beck said.

“What concerns me is when we hear the minister use the same old tired lines that we’ve heard the last two ministers use about the dollars put into classrooms without understanding the needs in classrooms across the province.”

In the 2017 budget, the school divisions were delivered a highly unpopular $54 million cut to their operating funding.

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That played into the Saskatchewan Party leadership race, where part of now Premier Scott Moe’s successful campaign included a $30 million funding return to the province’s classrooms.

READ MORE: Sask. Teachers’ Federation concerned over potential ‘maintain and sustain’ budget

Education Minister Gordon Wyant said he has received hundreds of correspondence items from teachers across the province recently, talking about issues they’re seeing in the classroom.

“Well, [English as an additional language] (EAL) is a challenge,” Wyant said. “Certainly there’s challenges in the classroom around administrative burden we hear that from teachers, we hear issues about safety in the classroom because there are children in the classroom with more complex needs now.”

Beck said the numbers don’t back this up.

Based on school division annual reports, and the “Education Sector Staffing Profile”, the amount of EAL students in Regina and Saskatoon schools grew by 1,728 students between 2014-15 and 2017-18, totalling 9,200 students.

In the same time frame, those cities lost 12 EAL teachers. The two cities had 147 EAL teachers between them.

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Wyant said these challenges need to be met head-on, and these challenges were brought to the cabinet table in budget deliberations.

New schools

In an Order in Council signed Feb. 28, cabinet finalized $30 million to combine the three Weyburn elementary schools into a single building. This project and a new school in Rosthern were the new builds approved in the 2018-19 budget.

READ MORE: Regina Huda School eyes 2nd major expansion as student population grows

Wyant signalled that joint-use school proposals are where the government is looking to invest in replacing aging education infrastructure.

“In circumstances where we need new facilities, it certainly increases the likelihood of them moving up the schedule for replacement schools, as opposed to doing two,” Wyant said.

This includes things like the agreement between the Regina Public School Division and the Regina Catholic School Division.

That 2017 agreement is to apply for joint replacement of St. Pius X School and Argyle/Athabasca School plus Imperial/McDermid School and St. Michael School.

Beck said infrastructure issues are important, but the challenges in the classroom can’t be discounted.

“When the minister says he’s been listening to people in education; he’s been listening to stakeholders in education and comes back with numbers talking about how much they’ve spent on capital, I don’t think the minister gets the message that’s been very clearly delivered to him,” Beck said.