The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation estimates about 3,500 people gathered at the Saskatchewan Legislative Building on Saturday for a rally organized by the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, calling for more public education money amid rising inflation and school enrollment.
Parents like Rosthern’s Trina Miller, whose daughter required extensive support at school because of severe developmental delays and speech apraxia, say those services have eroded over the years due to continued underfunding for public education.
“Our teachers are tired, our parents are tired, we just need the government to get on-board with us and actually give the public education system predictable, reliable funding,” Miller told host Stefani Langenegger in an interview on CBC’s The Morning Edition on Friday, ahead of the rally.
“We don’t have that right now. We really haven’t for an extraordinary long time.”
Miller said he saw the effects of underfunding first hand when his daughter was attending Rosthern Community School and the Prairie Spirit School Division had to cut a large chunk of its education assistants.
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“She went from [having] a full-time EA to get an EA about a third of the time,” Miller said. “How is she going to get a meaningful education when two-thirds of her support is gone?
“We’ve seen her stagnate. We’ve seen her teachers become increasingly frustrated because they know what good education looks like.”
Miller has moved her daughter from Rosthern Community School to Valley Action Abilities Inc., which is able to provide personalized programming for her needs.
‘Ready to send a message’: STF president
During Saturday’s rally at the legislature, Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation president Samantha Becotte, speaking over a cacophony of music and voices from attendees, said there has been “chronic underfunding in education” for decades.
“We’re ready to send a message to the government to say that what they’re putting into our students is not the investment we need to see,” Becotte said.
The Saskatchewan Party government needs to provide more funding for public education as inflation whittles down school budgets, she said.
Peggy Welter, a teacher at Cupar School northeast of Regina, said she’s never seen educators so worn down in her 14 years of teaching. Some teachers she knows have classes of 40 or more kids, she said.
Welter, who is a Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation councillor, said in an interview earlier this week that’s why she decided to help organize this weekend’s Regina rally.
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“My job is getting harder every year and by this point in my career it should be getting easier,” Welter said. “Why is that? It’s the lack of resources. Not just people resources, its infrastructure.”
She’s worried about recruiting and retaining new teachers and educational assistants, as their workload continues to increase because of budget shortfalls, she said.
To bring back per-student funding to what it was a decade ago, the province needs to spend at least $400 million more on public education each year, according to the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation.
“Students need more than the government is giving them, they are reducing services, all of these supports for them and teachers can only do so much,” Welter said.
Three urban school divisions in Saskatchewan are teaming up to ask the provincial government for mid-year funding adjustments amid rising enrollments.
Saskatchewan’s Education Minister Dustin Duncan said he and his ministry are aware of the surge in new students over the last two years.
“Are we going to continue to see school divisions see more students all throughout the school year? If that’s the case, then maybe we do have to look at the way that we adjust and reconcile enrollment,” Duncan told reporters after question period on Monday .
“I’m certainly willing to have a conversation with the school divisions to see if there is a different process that we need to ensure that funding is really in line with enrollment growth.”
More kids, not enough support: principal
Kendall Pierce, the principal of Caswell Community School in Saskatoon, has been in the education sector for two decades. He said classroom sizes had jumped from low 20s to close to 40 kids, and there weren’t enough supports to meet the demand.
“I remember when I first started, EAs used to be able to sit one-on-one with students with purely academic concerns,” Pierce said.
“In today’s world, across the provinces, in order to get an EA they’re typically has to be a safety concern, some severe diagnosis, some severe learning disability.”
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He added that immigration is a big factor in the enrolment jump, and said schools don’t have the resources to ensure the new students have success right away.
“We might have 36 kids in the class and there may be 10 students who are intensively supporting students who may need their own plan, along with the number of new Canadians in the school who need other support,” Pierce said.
The provincial government has boasted that it is providing record-high funding for public education, but Pierce said he is not seeing the benefits within his school.