The minister of education is not willing to commit to permanent mid-year funding adjustments

“We’re two months away from the end of the school year, so even if there was additional money coming like there was in November, December, I think it would be hard for the school divisions to really deploy that.”

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Several thousand more students than projected came into Saskatchewan schools this past scholastic year but the government is taking a wait-and-see approach to increase funding.

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Minister of Education Dustin Duncan said the reality of enrollment for the coming year will again almost certainly exceed current projections.

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But, he wondered if “this is a two-year blip as we’re getting through the backlog of immigration caused by the COVID pandemic” Duncan said this week, not committing to bringing in a permanent mid-year funding adjustment for school boards.

Duncan said the ministry is still feeling out how long these over-projection enrollment years will last.

“I think we’ll be looking at a similar process to what we did last year where, in November, we did identify and were able to flow money out to the divisions,” Duncan said before quickly adding, “I’m not committing to that day.”

A mid-year funding top-up took place in late November to the tune of $15.5 million across the province.

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The end of September is the cutoff for enrollment numbers to be submitted and for divisions to then receive funding adjustments from the Ministry of Education. Duncan said that perhaps that date should be revisited, but input would need to come from the boards specifically.

According to the minister, schools in the province were expecting around an additional 2,400 students in January 2022 “and then another 2,600 students arrived.” This year, Duncan said, “about 2,000 more students” were accounted for in the budget but “who shows up at the end of September will likely be higher than that.”

Across Regina and Saskatoon’s public and Catholic school boards alone, approximately 2,027 students came in after that cut-off point this past year.

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Asked what schools can do in the interim with hundreds of what school divisions describe as “unfunded” students, Duncan said staffing levels have been set and “we’ll have a discussion about, if this trend continues for the upcoming school year, what might be possible.”

NDP MLA Matt Love said more money is needed for schools across Saskatchewan. While growth is happening, he said, the province needs to be able to accommodate new students and their diverse needs.

“First of all, it’s great to have increased enrollment. We’re seeing a surge in young families, new students and especially a number of folks coming to our province from other parts of the world,” Love said.

Love said school boards being on the hook for those students is tantamount to the government “offloading that responsibility. That financial responsibility is offloaded to divisions, to make cuts elsewhere to provide education for a thousand new students.”

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The burden of these absent dollars, Love said, ultimately affected teachers and students who are already dealing with what he described as “triage” in classrooms.

The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, in a news release announcing a planned rally this Saturday in Regina, said the “most recently provincial budget delivered another round of underfunding, which will force school divisions to make difficult decisions and further cut resources and services that students need .”

Duncan said a top-up now doesn’t make much sense given the time of year.

“We’re two months away from the end of the school year, so even if there was additional money coming like there was in November, December, I think it would be hard for the school divisions to really deploy that,” Duncan said.

Love said it’s unfair for school divisions to be “asked to ride out this school year. It’s been 10 years where school divisions have been asked to find efficiencies.”

— With files from Larissa Kurz

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