SASKATOON – The education funding allocated in last month’s 2023-24 provincial budget will not be enough to maintain the current operations of Saskatchewan’s 27 school boards, which are now uncovering the local financial implications.
“The reality of this budget is becoming much more alarming as the detailed analysis happens,” said Jaimie Smith-Windsor, president of the Saskatchewan School Boards Association (SSBA), a non-partisan organization representing all boards in the province. “The funding for school operations falls short on many fronts.”
Furthermore, the way the government presented the numbers on budget day is misleading to the public, said Smith-Windsor. The $49.4 million, or 2.5 per cent, operating-grant increase announced in March was a comparison to 2022-23 budget-day figures, not to the actual amount divisions received last year.
At least $35.5 million of that is not actually new. That includes $20 million allocated in July 2022 for inflationary increases that was included in school divisions’ 2022-23 budgets, as well as $15.5 million provided in December for enrolment increases that had exceeded projections by 3,840 students.
“It is an irresponsible misrepresentation to frame these dollars announced last year as being part of an increase,” said Smith-Windsor. “The funding of education with public money should, at the very least, be transparent and easily understood, whether the news is good or bad. The public needs to be engaged in the bigger conversation about the value of education and the investment we put into it.”
The remaining $13.9 million equals an increase of just 0.7 per cent for 2023-24. This falls short of what is needed to maintain the status quo, with boards facing increasing costs in many areas.
These include support staff collective agreements; teacher salary increments and local agreement costs; statutory benefit increases and other payroll-related costs; and fuel, insurance and utility increases. Additional factors include other general inflation, unprecedented enrolment growth and the continuing need for specialized programming.
Preliminary estimates suggest funding shortfalls will be of a magnitude of multiple tens of millions. In the coming weeks, school boards need to consider options that might include staffing and programming cuts.
“Boards have been advocating for adequate and sustainable funding for a long time and our ability to deliver services to students has been eroded in recent years,” said Smith-Windsor. “With significant surplus revenues and the development of a new Provincial Education Plan, boards expected better investment in Saskatchewan’s future from this budget.”