Saskatchewan

Sask. gov't is underfunding education, says NDP, as support staff numbers tumble

Increasingly crowded and complex classrooms are being failed by a lack of funding for Saskatchewan’s education system, said NDP leader Ryan Meili, as the NDP released a list of school positions that have been cut back. 

Fewer psychologists, counsellors, speech pathologists and EAL teachers now than in 2014-2015

There have been efforts to keep teachers in Saskatchewan classrooms, but teachers and students both need supports, said NDP leader Ryan Meili. (Brenna Owen/CBC)

Increasingly crowded and complex classrooms are being failed by a lack of education funding for Saskatchewan, said NDP leader Ryan Meili after his party released a list of school positions that have been cut back. 

"The fact of the matter is, it's not how much you study, it's whether you pass the test, And when it comes to education, they're not passing the test," said Meili of the Sask. Party government. 

The opposition leader said education funding hasn't increased since 2016, despite an influx of 7,000 students into the province's classrooms.

"Teachers and parents and students are all under significant stress, and this government is not taking the steps to deal with that," Meili said.

Documents obtained by the NDP via a Freedom of Information request show that the number of kids in Saskatchewan school divisions who needed intensive supports grew by 9.6 per cent between the 2012-2013 and 2017-2018 school years. The increase in kids requiring "frequent" intensive supports grew by 13 per cent over the same time period, according to the NDP. 

NDP leader Ryan Meili talks about the challenges facing the education system, while standing by a Saskatoon school. He says that a lack of adequate provincial funding is hurting students, parents and teachers. (CBC News)

Loss of supports in classroom, say NDP

The NDP also flagged a drop in supports for students, including: 

  • Eleven per cent fewer counselling positions.

  • Nine per cent fewer psychologists.

  • Eight per cent fewer speech language pathologists.

  • Eighteen per cent fewer occupational therapists.

  • Eight per cent fewer English as an Additional Language (EAL) teachers, while there are 10 per cent more EAL students across the K-12 system, and 17 per cent more in Regina divisions

There are 1.3 per cent more educational assistants, but the NDP argued that is a flat hiring profile, compared to the growth in students.

A Saskatoon Public Schools board trustee described current education funding as skeletal, as that board implemented cuts at its most recent budget meeting. 

Members of the Saskatoon Public School Board discuss the division's budget report at a board meeting on June 18, 2019. In the background, a chart shows enrolment growth at the division over the last several years. (Morgan Modjeski/CBC News)

Prairie Valley School Division, which serves students in communities surrounding Regina, also said its most recent budget has required "difficult decisions" due to a provincial budget that didn't meet its hopes.

That division noted it had made a five per cent reduction to its decentralized budgets and reduced 5.4 full-time intervention support teaching positions.

Meili said divisions and classrooms need support staff.

"They're the infrastructure that helps support the teacher, that helps those students with special needs," he said.

Government points to record investment

Education Minister Gordon Wyant, in an email statement, said that the 2018-2019 provincial budget made a record investment in education at $1.9 billion, $26.2 million more than the previous year.

He said that from 2007, this is a 34 per cent increase, higher than the 14 per cent enrolment increases since that period, and faster than the rate of inflation. Since that time, more than 1,250 new teachers have been hired, as well as more EAL teachers, social workers, psychologists, occupational therapists and speech language pathologists.     

Since last year, he said the province has hired: 

  • 98 more school-based educators
  • 177 new educational assistants

The ministry acknowledged that pressures continue to exist even with larger operating budgets, noting that budget funding "so that we can begin conversations about innovation and how we deliver education."

"The NDP can continue to cherry pick data to fit their narrative and ignore the evidence from their time in government — when 176 schools closed and more than 33,340 students left the province (from 1995-2007)," he stated.

 

with files from Jason Warick

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