Funding for distance learning, capital projects included in record $3.1B education budget
The Government of Saskatchewan is committing over $20 million for online learning as part of its record $3.1 billion education budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year.
A total of $23 million will be allocated to the operation of the newly formed Saskatchewan Distance Learning Corporation (Sask. DLC).
The Ministry of Education’s total budget includes an investment of $3.1 billion, this marks an increase of $192.8 million or 6.7 per cent over last year.
Overall, Saskatchewan’s 27 school divisions will receive $2.04 billion in operational funding for the 2023-2024 school year. This is up $49.4 million from the $1.99 billion investment in last year’s budget.
A total of $7 million in continued funding will support the 200 educational assistants that have been hired since September 2021.
Saskatchewan NDP Leader Carla Beck criticized the province’s allocation of funding for education, arguing that the “record” increase doesn’t even cover inflation.
“I really thought we would see some sort of acknowledgment, some sort of investment in our K-12 system in this budget. We didn’t see that, we don’t see an investment that even meets inflation in our classrooms right now.”
“A child in Grade 10 in Saskatchewan classrooms right now will have gone their whole school career looking at fewer and fewer resources in the classroom. That certainly has impacts for those kids in that classroom, that has impacts on their families.”
When questioned about capacity concerns at schools across the province, Finance Minister Donna Harpauer said the budget was built with current enrollment numbers in mind.
“If the enrollment numbers for the actual school year are far higher than what's projected we have revisited it,” she said.
“We build budgets according to the projections that the school divisions give us to date.”
Minister of Education, Dustin Duncan reiterated this point following the announcement.
“Certainly we saw an increase for the operating budgets for the school divisions that will match up with the enrollment growth that we’re seeing as well as some as their non-salary inflationary pressures that we expect they will be seeing," he told CTV News.
"So I think that’s certainly good news for the school divisions.”
For early-year education and childcare, an increase of $72.1 million has been allocated for a total of $382.4 million.
Of the total, $298.2 million is provided through two agreements with the federal government.
The province recently announced that $10-a-day child care spaces for parents with children under 6-years-old would begin April 1.
School infrastructure was another highlight of the province’s plan. A total of $147.3 million will be spent in Saskatchewan’s ongoing capital plan.
Planning for five “new major” school projects were announced in the budget, which will cost a total of $4.4 million.
The province said the 'major projects' will be:
- A new K-12 school to replace and consolidate the elementary and high school in Carlyle.
- A new K-12 Francophone school to replace École Valois in Prince Albert.
- A new Francophone elementary school in Saskatoon.
- Renovations and expansion of Greenall High School in Balgonie.
- Renovations to Campbell Collegiate in Regina.
Overall, $115.7 million will go toward 20 ongoing capital projects to build a total of 15 new schools and to renovate five existing schools across the province.
A further $11.3 million will be provided for minor capital renewal projects to prolong the life of five schools in Kelvington, Prince Albert, Medstead as well as two in Moose Jaw.
Relocatable classrooms for the 2024-2025 school year will receive a total of $16 million, an increase of $4 million from last year.
According to the province, there are currently over 189,000 registered students in Saskatchewan’s K-12 school system.
'EROSION OF THE PUBLICALLY FUNDED SYSTEM'
Jaimie Smith-Windsor, President of the Saskatchewan School Board Association, told CTV News said there is recognition over the small increase in funding. However, the budget misses the mark.
“We certainly recognize that there is a small increase on the operating side. However, this budget again falls short of what boards are going to need to cover inflationary costs, operating costs and enrollment growth in their divisions,” she said.
“This budget contributes to the erosion of the publically funded system that we have and we need to have a bigger conversation around how education is funded in this province and we look forward to that in the coming years.”
Samantha Becotte, the president of the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation, did not mince words over her organization’s stance.
“Complete disappointment,” she said, referring to the education budget.
“Honestly we ran the numbers, we found that we needed to see a five per cent increase to keep status quo in education. Operating funding to K-12 schools is only at 2.5 per cent which means we’re going to see a cut to services and a cut to supports for kids and its really disheartening to see that our kids continually fall behind on the priorities of government.”
Becotte went on to explain that increasing immigration to the province will inevitably add to class sizes and will have a ripple effect on quality of education.
“We’re going to see less in terms of supports available for students in Saskatchewan,” she said.
“We have a two per cent increase in our schools this year, we don’t have a two per cent increase in our teaching staff. So, we’re going to see larger class sizes again. We just heard there is 400 job offers gone out health care workers from the Philippines, we know there are more people coming to our province and those people will likely bring kids with them. So, who is going teach these people? Who are the supports for them? So more english as an additional language learners and yet we have seen a steady decline in the number of EAL teachers in our schools.”
According to Duncan, the 2.5 per cent increase in funding is not a hard set limit and will be adapted to certain school division's needs going forward.
“Certainly ever school division is different, that’s 2.5 per cent across the board," he said. "So, depending on a division's enrollment whether they’re seeing enrollment going up or down they will go up or down based on that two per cent. In some cases divisions will see three or four per cent increases depending on where the enrollment goes.”
In reference to the continued funding for educational assistants, Becotte said it is not the entire solution.
“We need more trained EAs in our classes but we need professional teachers and professional supports in addition to that," she said.
"Providing more EAs sometimes is a bit of a band aid on a gushing wound in education.”
Post-secondary education in Saskatchewan can expect a $764.8 million investment this fiscal year.
The province's two main post-secondary institutions, the University of Saskatchewan and University of Regina, will see $431.8 million in funding.
U of R president Jeff Keshen said that the university is pleased with the funding from the province, exactly as expected from an ongoing memorandum of understanding (MOU).
“The budget is exactly what we expected it to be … they’ve also made a number of strategic investments in the university such as in psychology, nearly $1 million there and over $2 million in nursing seat expansions,” he told CTV News.
Along with improvements in scholarships, Keshen said the institution is on the rise following COVID-19 related challenges.
"We’ve received this year, in winter 2023, a record number of international students in the history of the University of Regina which has really truncated, by a year or more, our road to full recovery," he said.
"So like a lot of institutions coming out of the pandemic, there’s been some challenges, but I’m really pleased with the trajectory."
However, this outlook was not shared by the president of the U of R's faculty association, Britt Hall.
“We have been told that across the board, units at the university have to find between a five per cent and seven per cent cut. So what this means for the university has yet to be seen for details. Each faculty is responsible for finding that money within their budget but there is a whole suite of implications when forced with cutting budgets.”
Hall said the major worries are over the futures of sessional instructors and term members at the university as well as increased workload for those instructors that remain.
“When you get rid of teaching staff, someone has to do the teaching and this means it may increase mental stress as well decrease members abilities to do the other parts of their job which are research, scholarship and community service.”
Hall went on to explain that any effect on staff will transfer onto students.
“We like to remind people that our working environment is a student's learning environment and when cuts happen there is an impact on our students."
Jennifer Bowes, the opposition critic for advanced education, shared Hall's sentiments.
“It was definitely not what’s required for our post-secondary sector," she said. "We’re halfway through a four year multi-year funding agreement with all institutions post secondary in the province. We’ve got the next year and the year after slated for zero per cent increases. So as you know during an inflationary crisis that means it equates to a cut.”
Bowes said the opposition would like to see the province step up with additional funding for the U of R.
“So this something that folks were hoping to see is that MOU opened up and some dollars allocated for the next and final two years of that agreement and of course we didn’t see any of that coming from the government which has been disappointing for faculty and student leadership certainly,” she said.
“The number one concern that we hear across the board and we’ve been hearing for years is that those operating grants need to be adequate.”
Institutions such as Saskatchewan Polytechnic, the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies, and Dumont Technical Institute will also receive $171.1 million.
Regional colleges in the province are set to receive a total $35.6 million.
Of the total budget, $58.9 will be allocated to infrastructure, a 90 per cent increase since last year, the province noted.
The increase will go toward equipment and renovations for expansions in health training programs across the province along with Sask. Polytechnic’s campus renewal in Saskatoon.
Of the total budget, $25.2 million will be spent to add approximately 550 seats across 18 health training programs to help address critical labour market needs, starting in the fall of 2023.
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