Sask. government approves $51m in school funding for supplemental supplies, equipment and staff

Additional funding has been approved by the provincial government for classrooms to cover emergent, one-time expenses needed for a safe return to school this fall.

$51 million will come out of the $150 million in the COVID-19 contingency fund for education and from the federal and provincial governments along with school division savings. $41 million of the approved funding is provincial funding while $10 million is expenditure of the remaining school division savings.

The $74.9 million announced by the federal government in late August is part of the pooled funds added to the province’s education contingency fund.

During Tuesday’s announced in Regina, Education Minister Gord Wyant said they are still waiting for the funds from the federal government.

“As I understand, those funds will be distributed shortly. But we wanted to make sure that school divisions are aware of the commitments the province is prepared to make both with respect to provincial and federal funding,” he said.

Wyant added they wanted to make sure funds were available as quickly as possible following the federal announcement.

“I believe there is a number of school divisions, at least the ones I have talked to, that were already making some plans to ensure they had additional staff in place,” stated Wyant. “Now that these funds have been confirmed, they will be able to firm up a lot of those plans.”

As part of the new funding, 46 applications have been approved to provide more funding to school divisions, qualified independent schools and historical high schools.

Here is how the funding will be allocated:

• $19.1 million for sanitization, includes 191 staff
• $6.0 million for equipment and furniture
• $13.2 million for supports for immunocompromised students, includes 150 teachers and staff
• $9.5 million for additional distance learning capacity, includes 102 teachers and staff
• $4.0 million for technology upgrades

The government stated that 443 custodial support, teachers and staff are expected to be hired from the additional funds. More than 200 staff are projected to be hired as a result of the increased funding in the 2020-21 budget.

“In order to ensure our schools are as safe as possible for students and staff, $80 million has been committed for the start of the school year,” noted Wyant in a media release. “As a result of our combined funding increases, more than 600 new teachers and staff will be funded this school year.”

The Ministry of Education has allocated $10 million for PPE expenses, of which $2.3 million has been spent to date to procure six million masks for school divisions. The ministry will continue working with school divisions to determine (PPE needs) for the remainder of the school year. The central purchasing of PPE will continue to be done through vendors that were pre-qualified through a request for qualification process that was completed earlier this summer.

There is $64 million remaining in the COVID-19 contingency fund for education. The next intake for school division funding applications will be on December 1.

NDP says timing is off

Carla Beck, education critic for the Saskatchewan NDP, said the additional school funding from the government is welcomed, but she feels the timing is off.

Beck said this should have been announced long before the first day of school since students and staff are already back in classrooms.

“This money would have been better spent or allocated at least a month or two ago when we were asking questions and certainly school divisions were asking questions about confirmation of these additional resources,” stated Beck during her response to the government’s announcement on Tuesday at the Saskatchewan legislature.

Beck suggests the province waiting this long to confirm the funds “defies logic” since she thinks school divisions could have received the approval earlier to better prepare with more teachers, other staff and personal protective equipment.

She hopes the education minister and premier will learn lessons from how their planning for the province’s Safe Schools Plan has gone so far.

“One of the things that I think will be really important is for them to talk to school divisions and get that money out the door instead in a timely manner,” she said.

“It has really caused a lot of sleepless nights for parents, teachers and everyone in school divisions. I still think there is a long ways to go.”

Beck added she has already heard about shortages of substitute teachers around the province.

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