Sask. students start petition, demand boost to education budget
Calls come as school divisions announce potential staffing cuts
As school divisions across Saskatchewan consider staffing cuts in the wake of the recent provincial budget, some students in the province have signed a petition asking the government to boost education funding.
Nearly a dozen students — mostly from Fillmore, Sask., roughly 100 kilometres southeast of Regina — protested outside the Saskatchewan legislature Thursday, asking the province to increase the education budget another three per cent, or $60 million, on top of the 1.5 per cent announced last month.
"The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation and the Saskatchewan School Boards Association estimated 4.5 to five per cent of an increase [to the education budget] was needed to cover the cost of inflation and to meet the status quo," said protest organizer Nathaniel Schaefer, a Grade 11 student at Fillmore's 33 Central School.
"We want the government to increase the budget by $60 million so nothing has to be cut."
Late last week, Schaefer, 16, started a petition to bolster his request to the province. It's so far received 123 signatures from high schoolers across Saskatchewan.
WATCH | Some Sask. school divisions anticipate cuts due to budget shortfalls
Grade 11 student Kadence Palmer, who attends the same school, was among those who signed the petition and lent her voice to the rally in front of the Legislative Building Thursday.
"Even though not a lot of us showed up, it is a big deal to all the students in Saskatchewan," the 16-year-old said.
"We're the next generation of workers. For us to get into university to be those workers, we need proper [kindergarten] to [Grade] 12 education — and we're not getting that with the underfunding."
Patrick Maze, president of the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation applauded the students' demonstration, saying it should motivate the province to act.
"If we're cheating [students] out of a proper education in order to balance our books, then we're really cheating them out of a future and cheating Saskatchewan out of its future," he said.
"It's good of them to recognize this and to have the foresight to know that they have a voice in this situation, too."
Reserve funds available to ease shortfalls: minister
As school divisions prepare their 2022-23 budgets, Education Minister Dustin Duncan says he's optimistic they'll find a way to make ends meet.
"They'll obviously be looking at what they'll have to do to manage their budgets — and that may or may not include, perhaps, drawing on some reserves," he told reporters after Question Period Thursday.
Duncan estimates school divisions have roughly $140 million in unrestricted reserve funds — on top of restricted reserves.
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However, NDP education critic Matt Love says having schools dip into their savings is unacceptable.
"Every school division is dealing with increased costs — that are out of their control — that they're being stuck with by a government that doesn't want to fund education adequately," Love said.
Duncan said he plans to meet with school board representatives next week, adding that there's still time for divisions to look over their books before he signs off on their budgets in June.
With files from Adam Hunter
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