REGINA - Education funding has been a hot issue at the legislature this week and promises to heat up even more by this Saturday.
From 12 to 1 p.m. on April 29, plans are for a Rally for Public Education at the Saskatchewan Legislative Building in Regina.
According to organizers in a news release, the rally will "bring voices from across the province together to demand the provincial government stop the cuts and provide funding to meet all students’ needs.”
The plan is for “concerned parents, students, teachers and community members” to be on hand for the rally. Among the speakers confirmed to be there are Samantha Becotte, President, Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation Executive; Nathan Bromm, rural school principal and Vice-President of Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation Executive; Shauna Weninger, Regina Catholic School Division Board Chair; Judy Henley, President, CUPE Saskatchewan; Lori Johb, Saskatchewan Federation of Labour: and Opposition Leader Carla Beck, among others.
In advance of the rally, the opposition New Democrats had spent this week in the Legislature hammering the Sask Party government on the education funding issue.
Week-long attack by NDP of Sask Party government funding levels for education
During Question Period on Monday, Opposition Education Critic Matt Love noted that school boards in Regina were calling for more supports, pointing to comments from Darren Boldt, director and CEO of Regina Public Schools, that they had seen 600 students come to their schools since Sept. 30.
Education Minister Dustin Duncan responded he would be meeting with school divisions in the coming weeks on the increased enrolment issue, noting that last year they provided in-year money to cover the enrolment increases seen — something he later indicated to reporters he was prepared to do again this year.
In his response to Love, Duncan also pointed to enrolment growth and said it “runs a little bit counter to what the members opposite say, because they want to say that people are leaving the province. But apparently they’re leaving the kids behind when they leave the province… because enrolment is the highest it’s been in at least 20 years.”
On Tuesday, the NDP continued to accuse the government of underfunding classrooms.
Beck pointed to correspondence to parents from Saskatoon Public School Board Chair Colleen McPherson who stated that “our per-student funding dropped from 10,037 per student in 2022-23 to 9,869 in 2023-24.”
In his responses Minister of Advanced Education Gord Wyant said the government had provided “over $2.1 billion in operational funding for our school divisions, about $50 million more than last year; a 2.5 per cent increase, the largest increase in operational funding in the last eight years.”
Wyant also noted “Saskatchewan leads the country in per capita funding across our education portfolios.” But those responses didn’t satisfy the Opposition.
“Mr. Speaker, I challenge that minister, that Premier, and that Education minister to bring those tired and out of touch talking points to the steps of the Legislature this Saturday,” responded MLA Love.
“See how that goes. It won’t go well. It won’t go well because it shows how out of touch they really are.”
On Wednesday, the NDP continued their attack by releasing to the media contents of Saskatoon Public School Board’s letter to parents, which also included an infographic that outlined the implications of provincial funding levels for Saskatoon Public Schools:
“Class sizes will increase,” “No new schools are being built in areas that need them (e.g., northeast of Saskatoon),”, “Fewer resources for students requiring additional or intensive support,” “Fewer programs and unique learning experiences for all students.”
That correspondence also stated: “Public education in Saskatchewan needs sufficient, sustainable funding. We need your help. Make your voice heard. Talk to your local MLA.”
During Question Period again on Wednesday, Beck once more raised the issue of cuts to Saskatoon Public School Division.
Wyant maintained the government was making “record investments… the largest in the history of the province.” He also accused the NDP of always calling for more money for public education, but “never do they ever stand up and tell us how to pay for that, Mr. Speaker.”
Wyant then took note of the large audience of school kids that were in attendance in the gallery that day in making his point.
“We’re not going to leave the children in the classrooms in this province, Mr. Speaker, with unmanageable operating debt, Mr. Speaker. That’s a promise to the children in this Assembly and a promise to children across this province.”
The reaction from Love again pointed to the rally planned for Saturday.
“Per student funding is down, that’s a cut, Mr. Speaker,” said Love. “Does the Minister need a basic math lesson on the steps of the legislature this Saturday?”
But Wyant continued to maintain in his responses that the government was providing “more teachers, more educational assistants,” and that “we continue to support quality education in this province.”
Accusations that Premier, Education Minister won't be at the rally
On Thursday in Question Period, education was brought up as the issue again by Opposition Leader Beck, who raised the prospect that Premier Scott Moe (who had been away from the Legislature due to meetings with US officials) will not show to listen to teachers at the upcoming education rally.
"I'll be there, members of our team will be there. Simple question to the Premier -- does he have the guts to show up and listen to their voices?"
Advanced Education Minister Wyant replied once more by pointing to record investments of $2 billion in K-12 and almost $50 million more in education funding. "This government is committed to public education, Mr. Speaker," said Wyant.
"That sounds like a 'no,' but they should show up," said Beck. "Because it's choices by this tired and out of touch government that are forcing cuts to our kids' classrooms."