REGINA - The front of the Saskatchewan Legislature was the scene of a major rally Saturday afternoon in support of education funding.
Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation had organized the Rally for Public Education at the Legislature over the noon hour. Their goal at the rally was to call attention to the situation in classrooms across the province and to denounce themeducation funding levels provided in the 2023 provincial budget.
The event brought out a huge turnout estimated upwards of 3,000 to 4,000
people. The event attracted a range of speakers including education and union leaders as well as students. The crowd waved placards and frequently broke out into chants of “no more cuts.”
“I am blown away. We expected a crowd, but this is beyond our expectations,” said Samantha Becotte, President, Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation Executive to reporters.
“This government needs to listen. I think they need to take note to what happens today and start putting an investment in our students and into the future of our students.”
At the rally, speakers pointed to layoffs, programs cancelled, overcrowded classrooms and a lack of resources to kids. Becotte pointed to teacher burnout and teachers leaving the province.
“Publicly funded public education is important, and they can’t continue to syphon money off and limit the resources and discredit what we’re doing in public education because everyone across this province deserves a high-quality education. I think we’re ready to stand up, we’re ready to demand more.”
The governing Sask Party, however, had been pointing to the budget as providing the largest funding to education in the province’s history. During Question Period this week the government had pointed to $2.1 billion in operational funding for school divisions which is $50 million more than last year, and had called the 2.5 per cent increase, the largest increase in operational funding in the last eight years.
But the Official Opposition had pointed to correspondence from Saskatoon Public School Board Chair Colleen McPherson which stated that their per-student funding dropped from 10,037 per student in 2022-23 to 9,869 in 2023-24. Critics of the budget have also said it fails to keep up with inflationary pressures and increased enrolment numbers.
Neither Premier Scott Moe nor Education Minister Dustin Duncan were at the rally Saturday — absences which were pointed out by speakers there.
Earlier this week, Duncan indicated he would be meeting with school boards to discuss possible funding to address enrolment increases since the fall. Becotte made it known to reporters she wanted to see action, not words, from the minister.
“He hears what we are saying. He responds in the right way, he has the right words. I don’t know if it’s ineffective in translating that to Treasury Board or other parts of government, with a leader who isn’t valuing education, or if he is just saying the right things and doesn’t really care himself. But in the end, we are here to share the real experiences of what is going on in classrooms to date and I hope they listen. If there’s enough people saying the same thing, and talking about the importance of public education, they have to listen.”
Several MLAs from the opposition New Democrats, including leader Carla Beck were at the rally on Saturday. Beck called the response “so heartening” from the public.
“It’s been 10 years of underfunding. We see declining funding for students in this province. I believe, as the people who were here today believe, that education and investment in education is one of the best investments we can make in the future of this beautiful province, and to watch that decline over a whole decade and see the impact that it’s had on teachers and on student — to see people stand up and say they’re not going to take it anymore, they demand better funding for education, they demand that we invest in our kids at a time when the government is sitting on $1 billion in surplus, it fills me with so much hope about the future.”
She added that she is “done trying to convince Sask Party” on the value of education. Instead, it was time to talk to neighbours and community members.
“To make the decision, the wilful decision, this government is making not to invest in our kids, I think you saw the reaction here today. People aren’t going to stand for that much longer.