The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) is expressing frustration with the provincial government’s recent announcement of a $40-million bump in funding for school divisions across the province, saying the new money isn’t enough to meet the needs of schools wrestling with high inflation and rising enrolments.
“(The) announcement seems to be missing a zero,” STF president Samantha Becotte said, referring to 2022 data from the Fraser Institute that indicates the province needs $400 million to restore per-student funding to 2012-13 levels. “It also comes with just a few short weeks left in the school year, while school divisions are finalizing their budgets.”
On June 1, Education Minister Dustin Duncan announced a $40-million addition to education spending set out in the 2023-24 provincial budget, which was released in March. The new funding includes $20 million to handle enrolment booms and another $20 million to hire classroom and support staff.
That funding, however, won’t go far once it is distributed throughout the province, the STF said in a news release. The Saskatoon Public School Division, for example, will only see an increase of $2.66 million, despite their need for $10.5 million.
“We need predictable, sustainable budgets that meet and exceed both enrolment and inflation at a bare minimum,” Becotte said. “We are only seeing about a 2.7-per-cent increase as a real increase and enrolment is at 2.1 per cent. Inflation right now is at 5.2 per cent in Saskatchewan. So if you add those up, that doesn’t add up to 2.7 per cent. It falls far short of it.”
Becotte also said the province ended the 2022-23 fiscal year with a billion-dollar surplus and wondered why more money wasn’t given to education.
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Diane Boyko, chair of Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, said she would have liked more new funding to help deal with inflation, but the division now at least has numbers to work with. “This is getting us to a level where we know what we need to cut and see where that goes and what we will be able to not cut.”
In announcing the new funding, Duncan said school divisions will need to submit plans to the ministry on how they intend to use their share of funds for hiring teachers and education assistants. The province will then increase the operating grants to school divisions after Sept. 30, meaning the divisions will not receive new money until the fall.
Duncan added he is open to meeting with the school divisions more frequently throughout the year to assess classroom sizes and additional supports.
“That means, likely, the budget that comes out in March isn’t the final budget in terms of looking at what supports we can provide — more viewing March as the floor and not the ceiling,” he said.
Becotte said it’s incumbent on the front-line educators to keep provincial officials up to date on real-life challenges. “We need to continue to share the realities of today’s classrooms with our government and ensure that they understand that these are real concerns and our kids are our priority for us … To imagine that inflation doesn’t impact education is fairly short-sighted of government.”