The Opposition NDP is taking the Government to task on education funding in this year’s provincial budget. Calls from the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation were seeking a funding increase in excess of four percent. They were met instead with an increase of approximately 1.5 percent. Now the Opposition is claiming that the actual dollar value increase that provincial school boards are going to see for operating costs and expense increases is negligible. 

A release by the NDP Caucus highlights Education Minister Dustin Duncan’s admission that “the usable school division funding in the 2022 budget is much measlier than previously advertised.” 

NDP education critic Matt Love is calling on the Government to increase spending to meet school boards’ needs. 

“We’re seeing the same talking points from this government that this represents record funding in education,” maintains Love. “But of course, the Government is not accounting for increased costs that will be incurred by school divisions. These costs include things like negotiated contracts for teachers and non-teaching staff, inflationary costs, increased fuel costs, and of course for most school divisions, more students in classrooms who deserve a level of support that they need after two challenging years of pandemic learning.”

When schools entered into the pandemic environment, teachers had been contesting the government/trustees’ contract offering and beginning to enact job action. Once the impacts of the pandemic on schools became clear, teachers abandoned that course and leaned into the realities of pandemic learning. Now, Love feels that the Government’s claims of teachers’ being looked after in this budget don’t stand up. 

“I think what it’s doing is it’s not showing appreciation for the work teachers do. While the Government claims that this year’s budget fully funds the teachers’ contract, the truth is that school divisions and the Teachers Federation see things otherwise. The increase in operating costs for school divisions is roughly million $29.4. 96 percent of those funds, by the Government’s own calculations, will be used to meet the needs of increased negotiated wages. The remaining amount simply does not cover increased costs of more students, transportation costs, inflationary costs.”

Far from being the fault of teaching and non-teaching staff whose earning power continues to be eroded, Love sees the budget shortfall in education as potentially hurting students who need increased supports. 

It means that divisions will be facing another year of potential cuts and restrictions, he says. The situation hits home in the Horizon School Division as it moves forward, with the Ministry of Education, on plans for a new K-12 school in Lanigan. In a release, the Division notes that getting the project to the final stages is becoming a challenge given increased costs that have put the project $2.6 to $3 million over budget. A possible scenario is that the Division would need to increase its funding portion by up to $2 million dollars, which would place an additional strain on an already impacted budget. The Division continues to meet with Ministry officials and the Ministry of SaskBuilds and Procurement to explore solutions. 

Love says the funding issue in education is not isolated to 2022. It’s been an ongoing succession of austerity measures that have left school boards with no room to cut. Love, a former teacher, testifies personally to the impact of those cuts and he states it’s a big part of the reason he chose to run in his district of Saskatoon Eastview. 

“It was disappointing to hear the Minister of Education say that inflationary costs don’t impact school divisions. That absolutely stands in contrast to the reality that divisions are facing, whether that’s in capital projects or other costs: transportation, supplies, natural gas for heating. All of these costs are going up, and there is no one in this province immune from those rising inflationary costs.”

In Question Period, Love and the Opposition continue to press for funding adjustments and acknowledgement of the situation by the Government.