Former staff and students of the Northern Teacher Education Program gathered at the Saskatchewan legislature on Monday to protest the cutting of the program in 2016.

The La Ronge-based program offered northern residents the opportunity to become certified teachers. The provincial government cut the program in the 2016 budget.

The province hoped the program would be absorbed into a similar program offered at Northlands College in La Ronge, but protestors say that hasn’t happened.

“A lot of them were scared,” said former NORTEP student Elizabeth Fosseneuve. “They weren’t sure whether to stay in La Ronge to go to school, or to transfer back south to (Prince Albert) or Saskatoon. A lot of them did move south.”

A year later, most of the staff are unemployed. The government’s statistics show that nearly half of the former students are no longer enrolled in post-secondary programs in La Ronge.

“The majority of the employees have lost their jobs. Only one-third of the students have actually transferred over to Northlands,” former employee April Chiefcalf said. “A lot of the students (who) didn’t transfer over have either withdrawn from school or they have had to relocate.”

The provincial government is defending the cut, saying the province is still funding training for anyone living in the northern part of the province andinterested in becoming a teacher.

“I don’t believe that it was a cutthroat move at all,” said Herb Cox, minister of advanced education. “There was indeed some confusion resulting from the transition, but I think it was made for the right reasons and Northlands has a great record of providing education to the north for some 40 years.”

The province publically pledged on Monday to consult with northern residents before making any changes to the Kindergarten to Grade 12 systems in the area.