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Fundraising for school divisions under microscope at Leg

Daily Leg Update - Fundraising by Living Sky School Division is due to government underfunding education says Official Opposition, but Minister Dustin Duncan maintains it’s nothing unusual.

REGINA - Fundraising campaigns to raise money for school divisions were under the microscope at the Legislature this week. 

Opposition Education critic Matt Love grilled Education Minister Dustin Duncan on why school divisions were needing to turn to fundraising campaigns and “bottle drives” to fund their basic needs, accusing the government of starving school divisions of funding.

The issue came to light over news reports this week of a new fundraising effort by Living Sky School Division called the Living Sky Innovation Fund.

The fund has been established through the Battlefords and District Community Foundation. The Living Sky website included a YouTube video featuring Director of Education Brenda Vickers explaining what the fund hoped to accomplish. 

“What if we could?” Vickers said in the voiceover. “What if we could help ensure equity for all students in areas like nutrition and extracurricular opportunities? What if we could help support schools with innovative projects?”

According to Living Sky’s website: “Living Sky Innovation Fund will create equitable opportunities throughout our division for ALL schools and students to see Growth Without Limits, Learning For All. With your help, we can continue with the forward thinking inspired by asking “what if we could?” The vision for Living Sky Innovation Fund is to be innovative, encourage creativity, and support projects and initiatives to better serve our students now and in the future.”

Love ridicules “bottle drives”

According to the Hansard account of Question Period on Wednesday, MLA Love pointed to the establishment of this fund in accusing the government of not providing adequate support for public schools. 

“Just look at Living Sky School Division, based out of The Battlefords. They’ve recently made a charity fund to help support the basic needs of their school division. Folks can go online to make a donation or even sign over the deposit return for their bottles at Sarcan. Does the minister think that it’s okay that divisions have to essentially run bottle drives to make up for his failure to adequately fund our classrooms?”

Education Minister Duncan replied that “we have had foundations in place that support the work of school divisions, both public and Catholic, for many years, including the school division that he was an employee of, Mr. Speaker. And I believe that that foundation started when the NDP were the government, Mr. Speaker, so I don’t know why it was good then but now it’s a problem, Mr. Speaker.”

Duncan was referring to Saskatoon Public School Division, where Love worked as a teacher before being elected in Saskatoon Eastview. In his subsequent responses to Love in Question Period, Duncan pointed out that foundation had started a $20 million campaign in which the Brownlee family put in $10 million.

“So I guess we should shut down all foundations, perhaps health foundations as well that do good work across this province,” Duncan responded. “Is that what the members opposite are saying?”

In his responses Duncan also defended the amount of funding to school divisions. He noted that in “the budget year that’s just concluding, Mr. Speaker, puts Saskatchewan over $2 billion in operational funding. In fact, Mr. Speaker, we are the highest per capita spent on primary and secondary schooling among all the provinces, 24 per cent higher than the national average. And that’s according to Stats Canada who, just last week in fact, I think yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition said, quote, Stats Canada doesn’t lie.”

 “Mr. Speaker, this out-of-touch Sask Party government simply is not providing the stable and adequate funding so that programming in schools can operate without relying on charities, and that minister knows that,” Love said.

Love pointed out the had asked the education minister about fundraising to support classrooms back in 2020. 

“He said, ‘We are not going to rely on bake sales to ensure that we have a continuation of a safe return to schools.’ Mr. Speaker, he ruled out bake sales. How is it that bottle drives are now fair game for essential classroom supports?”

“We’ll check the quote on that one, Mr. Speaker,” replied Duncan, who again pointed to over $2 billion operational funding to school divisions. 

“That’s an increase of $29.4 million, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, on top of that in-year we put an additional $20 million to address inflation that school divisions were facing. And further to that, 15.5 million to address significant enrolment that we’re seeing, Mr. Speaker.”

In speaking to reporters after Question Period, Love said his issue was that “our school divisions don’t have adequate, predictable, stable funding to meet the needs of the classroom.”

“We hear this over and over again from families, from teachers, and from divisions that due to year after year after year of inadequate investment, there’s nothing left to cut.” 

Love added that he didn’t believe the situation at Living Sky division “was vastly different from any of our 27 public or separate school divisions.”

“We continue to hear concerns around classroom complexity, mental health needs, needs of students who are new to the English language, needs of students who come in need of intensive support in the classroom, and without the ability to meet those needs with nowhere left to cut, we hear school divisions across the province talk about having already cut down to the bone, they’ve gone the route of establishing a charity.”

Duncan sees nothing out of ordinary

In speaking to, Duncan made it known he didn’t believe having a foundation in place to raise money for a school division was out of the ordinary.

“Certainly, we know that other school divisions have had foundations in place for some time, and for providing opportunities or support for students that are really, for the most part, outside of the classroom. In the case of Catholic school divisions, it can be around some religious programming that isn’t really core funding that the Ministry of Education would provide. In this case it looks like they have some ideas in Living Sky School Division, in terms of where they might provide what these dollars might go for. But it’s not unusual, divisions can do this. They can raise money for things like scholarships or other opportunities for students. Not terribly surprised to see this happen.”

Duncan also noted that they see this quite a bit in healthcare, with foundations that work in conjunction with the SHA and Ministry of Health in “raising money for some really good ideas and innovative initiatives.”

Duncan also said the use of foundations to raise money for school divisions would “absolutely not” impact on stable, predictable funding for divisions, again pointing to the increases in funding seen previously.

Regarding the Living Sky School Division fund, “I think they just wanted to provide some opportunity for the community to fund some innovative ideas, so we’ll see where it goes.”