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Following outcry, Sask. government pledges $40M top-up for education budget

A month after Premier Scott Moe said more money was on the way for school divisions, Saskatchewan's education minister announced a $40 million top-up.

Dustin Duncan shared the news during a media conference in Saskatoon at Bishop Filevich Ukrainian Bilingual School.

"The government of Saskatchewan has funded enrollment increases in the past and I want to assure you that we will continue to fund enrollment increases to support our growing and diverse province," Duncan said.

Duncan pledged $20 million for school divisions to address swelling enrollment numbers and $20 million to help with "classroom complexity."

The money devoted to classrooms will fund "teachers, educational assistants, speech-language pathologists, counsellors, educational psychologists or other supports as required," according to an education ministry news release.

Bishop Filevich is part of Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools (GSCS). The division was one of many in the province that sent letters to parents and caregivers, warning of increased fees and cuts to programming.

Despite Moe's promise of more money, with no details, the school divisions were drafting their spending plans based on the originally budgeted amount, aiming for a June 30 deadline.

As of Wednesday, multiple school divisions told CTV News they had no communication regarding the funding increase or any potential extension of the late-June deadline.

The president of the Saskatchewan School Boards Association said the uncertainty is "not good for kids, it's not good for planning, it's not good for the kind of decisions that we need to be making in real-time."

"The right time to announce dollars in education is budget day. So that was March 22. Predictability is fundamental to good governance, it's fundamental to how we should be funding education in this province," Jaimie Smith-Windsor said.

Smith-Windsor said while Saskatchewan's school boards welcome any new money, she cautioned it may not go far after "successive budgets of chronic underfunding."

"We need to take a look at whether it's sufficient to prevent cuts when we're talking about education funding, and these dollars will essentially mean that boards will prevent some cuts to their programs and maybe help them get closer to a status quo kind of service for next year," she told CTV News Thursday afternoon.

While the Saskatchewan government's 2023-24 budget projected a $1 billion surplus, the province's school divisions argued their funding allotment in the March budget amounted to a less-than-one per cent increase — insufficient to handle growing enrollment.

With the additional $40 million, the education ministry says the operating budget for Saskatchewan's 27 school divisions for the 2023-24 school year now sits at $2.08 billion.

While speaking with reporters Duncan indicated it may be time to look at the annual timeline for school budgeting.

"Maybe that doesn't work for any of us anymore," Duncan said.

"I've committed to the school divisions [that] we're certainly willing to continue a conversation with them."

GSCS board chair Diane Boyko was on hand for Duncan's announcement, she called the injection of money a "good first step in the right direction to give school divisions adequate, sustainable and predictable funding."

The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) was less conciliatory, levelling harsh criticism in a news release following Dunca's "surprise" announcement, which came after weeks of uncertainty for schools, educators and parents.

"Unfortunately, $40 million is not enough to to meet the needs of our students," STF president Samantha Becotte told CTV News.

"Again, this just falls short of recognizing the real challenges that school divisions right across the province are facing," she said.  

--With files from Noah Rishaug Top Stories

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