The Saskatchewan School Boards Association (SSBA) and the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) shared their thoughts on the provincial government’s announcement of a $40 million funding boost to school divisions.
Jaimie Smith-Windsor, the president of the Saskatchewan School Boards Association, said that school boards and divisions will always welcome dollars into education.
“We’ve been calling for sufficient funding in education for quite some time,” she said. “These dollars are going to maybe help boards avoid some of the cuts that are being considered and maybe help boards get a little closer to status quo services.”
The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation was less welcoming of the funding, calling it “extremely disappointing.”
STF President Samantha Becotte said even with the announcement, public schools still require significantly more.
“This announcement also comes without any consultation with education partners. We are ready and willing to address the issues in public education funding, but this will require trust and open dialogue. Trust is strained when announcements of this order are made without notice to the rest of the sector.”
Becotte and the STF pointed out that a school division like Saskatoon Public Schools had a shortfall of $10.5 million in funding, with the recent announcement only giving the school division an increase of $2.66 million.
Becotte called the funding boost woefully inadequate to address the budget shortfalls in education for the coming year.
“We have previously highlighted data from a report from the Fraser Institute, which states that more than $400 million is needed to restore per-student funding in Saskatchewan to 2012-13 levels,” said Becotte. “The announcement seems to be missing a zero.”
“It also comes with just a few short weeks left in the school year while school divisions are finalizing their budgets. If the Minister of Education was going to do this two months after the budget announcement, why didn’t he just include this from the start?” she questioned. “Why put the sector through the anguish of budget planning based on numbers that were just going to change anyway?.”
Smith-Windsor echoed the same sentiments, saying while the funding boost is appreciated, adequate funding should have been announced on the budget day instead of months later.
“One-off funding just doesn’t work for boards. Predictability is so important to education, and that’s what’s needed to create the kind of stability that we need in Saskatchewan education,” she said. “We would look for sufficiency and predictability that is built right into funding distribution. We also look for those announcements to come on the budget day so boards can sit down and do the good work of planning for the next year.”
The money will be split into two different areas. $20 million will be provided to school divisions to address school enrolment growth beyond what was projected by school divisions, with the other $20 million will be available for school divisions to hire classroom and other support staff to respond to the challenges of classroom complexity.
Smith-Windsor said enrolment growth had been a problem the school divisions have needed help with for years.
“On budget day, boards were delivered a budget that did not address enrollment growth or the inflationary costs that we’re seeing,” she said. “Boards have been struggling to meet the needs of enrollment growth as well as inflation. What we’ll be looking for is how these dollars will meet those needs and whether they’re sufficient to meet all the needs that were identified by boards.”
As for the money set to help hire classroom and support staff, Smith-Windsor said she doesn’t know if divisions can add staff, but the funding should prevent some divisions from cutting it.
“The additional dollars that have been announced will likely prevent some of the cuts that school boards are considering and help boards get closer to a status quo position.”
Smith-Windsor said it remains to be seen whether the funding will come with some conditionality or some strings attached. The divisions are now waiting to see how the money will be distributed across the province and if it will be distributed equitably.