New report says Sask. underfunded education by $2.4B

A new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says changes to property taxes have short-changed Saskatchewan students.

Political scientist David McGrane says property tax changes mean schools get less money

Political Studies professor David McGrane (right), next to his daughter Anne, 6, and his son Gabriel, 4. (Jennifer Quesnel/CBC News)

A new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says changes to property taxes have short-changed Saskatchewan students.

The study, Underinvesting in Our Future, says K-12 schools across the province have been underfunded by $2.4 billion since the Saskatchewan Party took office in 2007.

"From a parent's point of view, and a parent who wants the best for their children, you have a government telling you 'we have record investment in education,'" said study author and professor David McGrane. "And then you go to the school, and it just doesn't seem to be that way." 

McGrane said the lack of money has led to school buildings that are falling apart, cuts to music and academic programs, and cuts to educational assistants. He said interaction with his children's schools have shown there are serious issues at play.

"I was getting asked to fundraise for the new playground, for instance," said McGrane. "I'm getting emails from the Concerned Parent Committee about the lack of space. We have numerous portable classrooms at our school, and it's becoming a real problem."

His son's sessions with a speech pathologist are done over Skype, as the specialist is located in Ontario. His daughter needs help learning to read, but there are no longer any educational assistants in her classroom.

McGrane's research states that, as a percentage of provincial GDP, money coming into the K-12 system from property taxes has decreased by 43 per cent. Meanwhile, provincial grants have only increased by 12 per cent.

Ultimately, McGrane is recommending that the provincial government lock in a firm amount of money going towards K-12 education at three per cent of GDP.

McGrane admits he is a card-carrying member of the NDP, but says he started to research the issue because he's concerned about what he sees on a day-to-day basis at his children's school.

He noted that since the Saskatchewan Party took power, parents can no longer lobby their local school board to raise taxes, if they feel their schools require more money. 

Education Minister disputes report's findings

Education Minister Don Morgan disputes the figures McGrane used in the report. His officials said it would not be practical to tie annual education funding to Saskatchewan's year-to-year economic performance. 

"The GDP fluctuates very significantly depending [on] what's taking place in the resource sector, the construction sector. It has nothing to do with what school's needs are, what students' needs are," Morgan said.

The Saskatchewan Party has hinted it may raise education taxes and said that it's reviewing its school funding formula.