Sask. budget: $3.75B education budget to be partially funded by raising property taxes
Average homeowner will pay $18 more per year, province says
The Saskatchewan government's 2021-22 budget includes $3.75 billion for education that will be partially financed through tax increases on residents, businesses and resources.
Finance Minister Donna Harpauer tabled the budget Tuesday. It includes an increase of $391.3 million — or 11.6 per cent — for education from last year's budget. The majority of the increase is due to pensions, the province said.
The budget prioritizes keeping schools open as the province continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, while also relying on school construction projects to stimulate the economy.
Funding includes $100.9 million to build 16 schools and renovate five existing schools across the province, with another $10 million reserved for relocatable classrooms.
The budget also includes $190 million for education capital, but cuts $8 million for capital maintenance on Kindergarten to Grade 12 schools and advanced education.
Keeping classrooms open
Saskatchewan's 27 school divisions will see a $19.2 million increase in operating funding over last year, including a two per cent increase for staff as part of the teachers' collective bargaining agreement.
"It's a good news budget for education," Saskatchewan Teachers' Association Patrick Maze president said. "It helps with inflation and helps with enrolment increases. We're looking at it as a positive."
Pandemic supports for keeping classrooms open were previously announced. They include $20.7 million for the 2021-22 school year so divisions can acquire more staff, IT equipment, PPE and cleaning supplies.
Minister of Education Dustin Duncan said this money will also be used for school divisions to address the needs of students returning in the fall, especially since enrollment decreased due to the pandemic.
School divisions have also banked money from the $155 million COVID-19 contingency fund from the 2020-21 budget, said Duncan.
Post-secondary schools will receive a combined $60 million over the next two years to manage costs associated with the pandemic.
Increase in property taxes
Harpauer's 2021-22 budget proposes an increase to the education property tax (EPT) to increase provincial revenue available for pre-K to Grade 12 education.
The rates have remained unchanged since 2017.
The budget proposes a .85 total increase in the EPT mill rate, resulting in a slight increase for residential, commercial/industrial and resource properties, and a decline in the rate on agricultural land.
The budget shows the government is projecting to collect $12 million in revenue from the increase. The average homeowner will pay an additional $18 per year.
Post-secondary schools will get $28.4 million more than last year's budget to help with construction projects and student aid.
This includes an increase in the Saskatchewan Advantage Scholarship, providing eligible students with $250 more per year.
The government also plans to launch a student loan forgiveness program for veterinarians and veterinarian technologists who work in rural and remote communities.
Opposition calls budget 'uninspiring, ordinary'
NDP leader Ryan Meili said the 2021-22 budget does not go far enough in addressing the pandemic.
He called it an "uninspiring, ordinary budget that doesn't fit the challenges of today" with "nothing serious" being allocated to education.
"This will amount to cuts and tough decisions for school boards," Meili said.
"[School boards] are dealing with overcrowded, complex classrooms for quite some time. Instead of helping to address that this government has said they're not going to keep up with the student needs, and that's a real failure when trying to build a better future for this province."
Cuts to school divisions remain unknown
President of the Saskatchewan School Board Association says the budget is reasonable, adding that it's too early to determine whether cuts are coming.
On Tuesday, the government will give school divisions their budget envelopes, which will be reviewed by elected school board trustees.
"I don't want to create a false expectation that this is a great investment that's going to allow for a lot of expanding programming in school divisions because that's simply not the case," Davidson said. "But it is in line with what we anticipated with what would be coming."
Every year, the Ministry of Education develops its budget based on enrolment numbers submitted by school divisions.
"Given the number of students that have disconnected from our system over the course of the pandemic, enrolment projections are something that's difficult to do at this point in time," Davidson said.
"If there's a surge in enrolment, we've had some conversations (with the ministry) and there will be some further conversations if that does occur."
At this time, Maze says he doesn't expect divisions will have to slash funding in the fall.
"If they got that projected enrolment way wrong, then they should expect some kind of adjustment in the school year," Maze said.
"Hopefully, the projections were accurate, in which case we should assume there should be no cuts."
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