Frustrated and underfunded: Sask. educators and parents decry education budget

Frustrations are mounting as educators in Saskatchewan continue to call for more support from the province, but it’s not just teachers voicing their concerns.

“How can you possibly say that you’re doing a good job in educating, that you’re investing in education properly? There’s not really any way to politics to make it look good,” said Dr. Brady Bouchard, a family physician in North Battleford who is concerned for his kids.

Bouchard said he’s heard from school divisions that have had to cut 80 positions over the last five years, and schools that have classrooms with 41 kids in them, and wonders why the government ignores it.

He added that this has started to make him question whether he can continue to live in the province.

“I’m willing to put in the investment to make our health-care system better, but I’m not sure I’m willing to stick around if my kids are not getting the education they need to set them up for success in life .”

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Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan educators navigate resource shortages'

Saskatchewan educators navigate resource shortages

Bouchard has three kids, and said he’s invested in making the province the best it can be for raising a family, which is why he’s been vocal about the issues he’s seen.

He said with health care you can continue to build and try and improve the system, but you don’t get that opportunity as a parent.

“I’m realizing as my kids are in the education system now, and will be for the foreseeable future, that you really only get one shot at it as a parent, you really only get one shot at it as a province, especially in early childhood education, to do it properly.”

Colleen MacPherson, the board chair for Saskatoon Public Schools, says there needs to be more conversation about how education is inextricably linked to our economic future.

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“I have a very high level of frustration that there’s a lack of understanding that a well-funded and robust education system underpins our healthy economic and social future, for our children, for ourselves and for our province,” MacPherson said.

Click to play video: 'STF calls for more funding for Saskatchewan's education system'

STF calls for more funding for Saskatchewan’s education system

She said the increase in funding from the province doesn’t meet the rise in inflation, and is forcing the division to face a loss, as well as cuts.

“We don’t get a cut-rate at the gas pump just because the bus that pulls up is yellow,” MacPherson said.

“These budget cuts force us to ask everyone in our division to do more with less.”

She said they were seeing real growth in student enrolment, noting that it was something to be celebrated, but also warning that it was making it harder to offer many of the supports children need.

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“Most of that growth has happened at the elementary level.”

She said many of these new students come from other countries, and often need things like language supports.

A rally is being held in Regina at the Saskatchewan legislature on Saturday to try and highlight these issues.

Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation president Samantha Becotte said they’ll be there from 12 pm to 1 pm to address the years of underfunding.

“We’re coming together to celebrate the amazing work that is happening in schools, but also to draw some attention to the shortfalls from the current provincial government, but also from years and years of chronic underfunding in education,” Becotte said.

Becotte said there’s only been one year in the last decade where the increase in education funding was above the rate of inflation.

“It just means students are getting less supportive, and it means it’s getting harder to meet the needs of our students.”

Between 2021 and 2022, STF said there was a drop of about 330 educators across the province, which Becotte said came from budget cuts.

“We are also losing teachers because the demands that are being placed on them are unmanageable.”

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Becotte said the number of kids who need intense education or mental health support is growing. She adds that the number of professionals able to help in those areas that continue to decline.

“I talked to a counselor earlier in the year who said they had a caseload of 200 students. And when we’re talking about mental health, we need regular, ongoing support.”

She said counselors also need to be available for those crisis moments.

“With 200 students, to try and fit everyone in on a regular basis is an impossible task.”

Becotte said she’s had regular communication with Minister of Education Dustin Duncan, and has been sharing many of the concerns she’s hearing from teachers and parents.

“He says the right things sometimes, he says that he cares about education, he says that he wants what’s best for students and Saskatchewan. But the actions of this government through provincial education operating funds that are put in the budget, it tells a different story.”

Global News reached out to the province for comment and received a statement.

“In Saskatchewan, education is a shared responsibility. While the government provides the funding to school divisions for the provision of programs, supports, and services, school divisions have the responsibility to make staffing and programming decisions within their allocated budget to meet local priorities and address the needs of their students and staff.”

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The Ministry of Education said it hands out operational funding through the pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 funding distribution model, and that funding for this school year was allocated using projected enrolments that are provided by school divisions.

“Once actual enrolments for the 2023-24 school year are known, updates can be made to ensure that funding is allocated where needs are highest.

“In this year’s budget, Saskatchewan’s 27 school divisions will receive an increase of $49.4 million or 2.5 per cent over the 2022-23 budget. This includes $18.9 million to address other inflationary pressures such as increasing utility and insurance costs. The province is also providing $7 million in continued funding to school divisions to retain the more than 200 Educational Assistants that have been hired since September 2021.”

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