Ministry delivering $40M funding top-up for Sask. school divisions

An additional $40 million is coming to school divisions, announced just ahead of the June deadline for finalized budget submissions.

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In response to lacerating criticisms from across the education sector of chronic underspending, the provincial government has followed through on a promise for more funding for school divisions.

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On Thursday, the province announced a $40 million top-up to education spending, to address enrollment increases and staffing constraints in Saskatchewan schools anticipated for this fall.

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Half, or $20 million, will be added to the pool of operational funding available for 2023-24, to support the 27 school divisions in the province facing budgetary pressures related to rising enrollment levels.

A second $20 million was earmarked to support hiring more staff for classrooms, including teachers and support roles such as educational assistants, psychologists, speech pathologists and others.

Education Minister Dustin Duncan described the top-up as “part of the government’s commitment to ensuring students all across the province have access to high-quality education.”

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“This additional $40 million in funding will help address a rapidly growing student population as well as ensuring that our teachers have the supports they need to support an increasingly complex classroom,” he said in a prepared statement.

Duncan made the announcement Thursday surrounded by dozens of students at Bishop Filevich Ukrainian Bilingual School in Saskatoon. Many of the children wore embroidered Ukrainian shirts and later sang a song in Ukrainian.

“I know that this school, like many others, has had a lot of growth over the last year,” Duncan said.

“One of the reasons for that being our immense immigration surge, as well as those arriving in Saskatchewan from Ukraine. Many of the students displaced by the war in Ukraine have chosen to attend school under this very roof.”

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Funding specifically for staffing came from work by the Class Size and Composition Committee, formed in 2019 to review the state of Saskatchewan classrooms and tasked to provide recommendations to the ministry by the end of May.

Duncan previously promised more funding at the beginning of May, after thousands of teachers, students and supporters amassed at a rally in Regina calling for the province to “invest in our schools.” Duncan floated a potential delivery in November, but quickly heard criticism that it would be too late to support budget planning.

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The injection announced Thursday arrives just ahead of when school divisions are to begin making final budget submissions, due by the end of June.

With the top-up, the Ministry of Education budget is now providing $2.08 billion in operational spending for 2023-24, and doubling the year-over-year increase to funding for school divisions. The new funding brought a $49.34 million, or 2.5 per cent, increase up to an $89.34 million, or 4.5 per cent, increase.

Both Duncan and Moe have maintained that education spending is up, calling this year’s increase to educational funding a “record investment.”

Sector advocates, including the Saskatchewan School Boards Association and the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, have disagreed, stating the increase for operational funds actually equates to 0.7 per cent, or $14 million, far below what many school boards say they need to maintain the status quo.

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Ahead of the provincial budget in March, STF president Samantha Becotte said the education sector needed a $400-million investment to bring the province back up to 2013 levels, when Saskatchewan led the country in per-student spending.

She also said divisions would need an at-minimum increase of five per cent in 2023-24, to maintain funding levels from 2022.

Thursday’s announcement also marks the second year in a row that the Ministry of Education has added more dollars for schools after presenting its final budget in March.

In response to outcry over spending last spring, two funding injections were offered in 2022 after school divisions rejected the government’s suggestion of dipping into reserve funds to cover operational expenses.

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In July, Duncan announced a $20 million top-up to address inflation, followed by another $15.5 million in November to enrollment pressures. School divisions have continued to list both as major pressures on their financials again in 2023.

lkurz@postmedia.com

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