Chants of “no more cuts” and “enough is enough” rang out through Wascana Park on Saturday as people from across Saskatchewan gathered for the rally for public education.
The rally, run by the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF), highlighted the underfunding and cuts to education budget, as well as other difficulties facing teachers in the province. The rally comes just as the STF is set to return to contract negotiations with the provincial government, with teachers’ current collective agreement expiring in August.
“We’re here today […] for one reason: to tell the government it is time to invest in public education,” announced STF vice-president Nathan Bromm in his opening remarks. “It is time for the government to stop playing semantical games in the media, talking about record budgets. It is time to acknowledge the decades of cuts and underfunding.”
In its 2023-24 budget, the Saskatchewan government allocated $2.04 billion to operational costs for public education, calling the figure “a record” in a press release published on March 22. This is a 2.5 per cent increase from the 2022-23 budget of $1.99 billion for operational costs.
However, the STF says it needs a budget increase of five per cent just to keep up with inflation. The federation says the government’s budget will force school divisions to cut jobs and programs, and that it does not account for increasing student enrollment across the province.
"We can’t be everything. Teachers are trained in education. We don’t get counselling degrees, or we’re not education psychologists. We can’t be everything for every student."
Dawn Ganshirt, a grade five teacher in Regina who attended the rally, wants to see more support from the government. Her students are always on her mind, and she goes home thinking about how she can better help her students with the limited resources the government allocates to education.
“You’re working so hard, you’re giving everything you have to your class and your profession,” she admits. “You feel like it’s all on you to help these kids succeed. We want everybody to do their best, but it comes with a cost. And the cost is your physical health. People are tired, people are struggling with anxiety, with depression. Everybody’s trying their best and working at capacity. We’re doing the best we can but everybody’s struggling to support everybody.”
According to the STF, over 3,500 people were present at Saturday’s rally protesting the budget. Attendees included teachers, students, parents, support staff, Saskatchewan NDP MLAs, and members of local unions.
“We’re here today […] for one reason: to tell the government it is time to invest in public education,”
Educational supports include specialists such as speech and language pathologists, counsellors, school psychologists, occupational therapists, and other support staff such as educational assistants, and learning resource teachers. Ideally, support staff and teachers would be able to directly assess and address individual student needs; however, Ganshirt says that this is difficult to do without the proper resources.
Meanwhile, STF president Samantha Becotte says that teachers across the province are struggling as more students require the support of specialists. But as the government cuts specialist positions, classroom teachers are left with no help for struggling students.
“In almost every conversation that I have with teachers, they talk about wanting more for their students, wanting to be more for their students,” shares Becotte. “But we can’t be everything. Teachers are trained in education. We don’t get counselling degrees, or we’re not education psychologists. We can’t be everything for every student. And the pressures that are being put on teachers to be everything for every student is creating some burnout across the province.”
STF invited education minister Dustin Duncan to speak at the rally, but he declined.
“It is time for the government to stop playing semantical games in the media, talking about record budgets. It is time to acknowledge the decades of cuts and underfunding.”
The momentum behind this rally comes from years of underfunding and cuts to education, with teachers bearing the brunt of the cuts.
STF last held a vote on job action and sanctions in February 2020, weeks before the first COVID-19 lockdown. At the time, STF was fighting for salary increases and smaller class sizes after bargaining that began in August 2019 with the province fell through. Initially, STF was fighting for an eight per cent salary increase over three years. However, they eventually agreed to a contract of six per cent over four years in May 2020 due to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic. This contract did not fully address classroom size concerns.
After the previous sanctions vote in 2011, teachers went on strike for three days.
Despite the frustration and worries of teachers, students, parents, and community members, Ganshirt says there remained an aura of hope and inspiration at the rally.
“It’s something that I’ll take with me when I go back into the classroom this week,” she shares. “Because it wasn’t just teachers out there. I saw some families from my school and students that I know. It was so many people that came out and said this is an important issue. This isn’t a partisan issue, this is an issue that affects everybody. Everyone has a stake in education.”