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Sask. unveils $3.3B education budget as thousands of teachers picket near legislature


As the Government of Saskatchewan announced its election year education budget in the assembly – thousands of teachers voiced their disapproval in front of the province’s legislature.

Much of the province’s education funding announcements were already made public in a rare pre-budget address by Premier Scott Moe on March 6.

The Ministry of Education will receive a $3.3 billion budget for 2024-25. The figure represents a $247.8 million increase overall.

Total education spending in the province – including post secondary, immigration and career training as well as regional colleges – equals out to $4.4 billion.

Saskatchewan’s 27 school divisions will receive $2.2 billion in operating funding – marking a $180 million increase from the 2023-24 budget.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday morning, Moe said the "record" education funding is a response to calls for help from across the province.

“Saskatchewan people are asking for that investment ... The school divisions have signed a four year agreement saying that that will be the base investment moving forward,” Moe said.

“The only one that has not agreed to this investment is the [Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation] union and we again would ask them to return to the table.”

The STF maintained that despite the government’s claims, the current budget would need a 12 per cent increase to return per-student spending to 2015-16 levels – translating to $268 million on top of the already announced $180 million.

“In the end of it, we know that this year we are eighth in the country for per-student funding and likely we are going to be moving down in the ranking,” STF President Samantha Becotte told reporters.

According to Statistics Canada, Saskatchewan’s school board operating funding per-student was the highest in Canada in 2015-16.

The STF said in the past eight years, Saskatchewan has seen a 20.7 per cent reduction in per-student funding – representing a loss of $3,362 for each student after adjusting for inflation.

Samantha Becotte speaking to reporters on March 20, 2024. (Cole Davenport/CTV News)

Classroom supports

A total of $356.6 million of the budget will go toward classroom supports – up 14.7 per cent from last budget.

The $45.6 million increase includes ongoing funding for the province’s various pilot projects aimed at classroom complexity – a key issue in the current labour dispute between the province and the STF.

Finance Minister Donna Harpauer said the pilot projects will narrow down how funds can be used most efficiently.

“We need to start to drill down as to what's needed and where and that seems to be the biggest question because complexity is indeed very complex,” she said. “We could have put more money there but we're not sure yet the most effective way and we're going to be working with all of our partners to identify that for future budgets.”

The STF claimed that funding for classroom supports have declined as a percentage of total education funding – dropping from 15.1 per cent in 2017-18 to 14 per cent in 2024-25.

Additionally, the federation aired its concerns over the “unrestricted” nature of the funding.

“This means that school boards can choose to use these funds for other purposes, such as servicing debt, instead of being used to assist students with their learning needs,” the STF release read.

“Teachers are adamant that restricting these funds to their intended use is essential to hold government and school boards accountable, and the best way to achieve this is within the language of a provincial collective agreement.”

NDP Finance Critic Trent Wotherspoon said the STF’s concerns are validated by past behaviour from the province.

“There's a reason why there are thousands of hard working teachers out in front of the building here today,” he told reporters. “They remember a 2016 election year budget that was heavy on promises. But those promises were broken later that year, when devastating cuts were imposed.”

University of Saskatchewan based scholar Charles Smith said education funding and policy are driving the province’s position on classroom size and complexity issues.

“They don’t want to lose the control that they have over those specific issues,” he said. “They want flexibility in a policy area and the teachers don’t want flexibility in a policy area, they want the funding committed and clear over the life of the contract.”

The political science professor admitted there’s a vast distance between the two sides of the bargaining table.

“I think they are quite far apart and it’s going to take some movement.”

New schools announced

The province’s $216 million education capital budget will include funding for the planning of nine new schools – which include new public and catholic joint-use elementary and high schools in east Regina and Saskatoon.

“Acknowledging that with immigration, population increase, we have more students coming into the classroom, so we need more classrooms,” Harpauer said.

Premier Moe noted that one of Saskatoon’s proposed schools is already planned to house around 3,400 to 3,600 students.

“It's an incredible size of school, and not one that I think even 10 or 15 years ago would even be under consideration in this province,” he said. “That's just significant of how quickly our population is growing.”

The capital budget will also include $28.5 million for relocatable classrooms to help address overcrowding concerns.

On the picket line

Becotte claimed over 6,000 people took part in demonstrations in front of the legislature on Wednesday – their second trip to the legislature within a month.

"I had conversations with members of the public who are concerned about education because they know that investing in education means that when they age, they're going to have the health care professionals that they need," she said.

"Our kids are the workforce of the future, we want to make sure that they're getting the best education now. So that they can support us as we grow old."

The Saskatchewan School Boards Association told CTV News the budget will help matters – but increases in the future are needed.

“I think there’s some indication that we can move forward with this budget to a place of stability,” President Jaimie Smith-Windsor said.

However, stability may not be on the horizon as a collective agreement for teachers remains elusive. According to Smith, where the dispute goes next depends on public opinion.

“I think that could be the pressure needed. On the other hand if it goes the other way and we start seeing public opinion become more critical of the teachers and their union, we might start seeing more pressure from the membership of the union to get back to the table.”

As for the STF’s opinion of Saskatchewan’s school boards – Becotte was sure to voice her frustration with the SSBA.

“Without any real commitment, I don't expect that government is going to continue with any increases in education. That is the frustrating part of the SSBA leadership is that they should be fighting along with teachers,” she said. “Really what we're doing is what they should have been doing the last seven years in ensuring that we have that predictable and sustainable funding.”

The budget announcement comes as teachers are set to cap off their tenth week of strike action on Friday.

Bargaining between the STF and the Government Trustee Bargaining Committee (GTBC) originally began in May of 2023.

Educators in Saskatchewan have been with without a contract since August of 2023. The STF declared impasses in negotiations in both November and February – citing government’s refusal to bargain on issues of classroom size and complexity. Top Stories

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