With the number of students in Saskatchewan schools continuing to grow, the province announced millions of dollars to cover enrolment increases.
More than 189,900 kids are filling classrooms this fall, a rise of 3,840 registered students in provincial kindergarten to Grade 12 school divisions compared to last year, the Ministry of Education said in a news release.
It is the largest enrolment growth for Saskatchewan schools in more then 20 years, and the province plans to pay out another $15.5 million in operating funding for the 2022-23 school year as a result, the ministry said.
Enrolment numbers are "certainly higher than school divisions had been projecting earlier this spring," said Saskatchewan's Minister of Education Dustin Duncan on Wednesday.
"The part of money for school divisions announced in the spring budget would have been divided among more students, and so it would have meant some readjustments in what school divisions were expecting for their operational budgets this school year."
The funding is based on preliminary school division enrolment data, the ministry said. The data will be updated at the end of the year to reflect the actual enrolment numbers from Sept. 20, 2022.
Saskatoon, Regina largest drivers of growth, says minister
The $15.5 million is especially aimed at school divisions that are experiencing growth this year above and beyond what they expected, said Duncan.
"School divisions will be able to use it to hire more staff including teachers to help reduce some of the larger class sizes that we do have," he said.
The school divisions seeing the most new kids in their classrooms are located in Saskatoon and Regina, he said.
In October, Saskatoon Public Schools (SPS) released its enrolment numbers, saying they were higher than initially projected, especially in the elementary schools.
Compared with 2021-2022, 786 more children are attending grades 1 to 8 this year, for a total of 15,932 students in 48 elementary schools, according to SPS.
"We appreciate that the provincial government recognizes the need for the additional funding given our high enrolment numbers this year," said Saskatoon Board of Education Vice-Chair Kim Stranden on Wednesday.
"We will work on a more detailed plan for this funding once we know how much we're getting."
Overall SPS has around 27,000 students and employs more than 2,600 professional and support staff, it said.
The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation also welcomed the additional funding, but its president Samantha Becotte said it's the "bare minimum," and not enough to address the increased needs of kids in the classrooms.
Spreading $15.5 million among all students in Saskatchewan would mean an additional $82 per student, the federation said in a news release.
"Because of cuts to education, it's not going to be providing the additional support that we've been asking for," said Becotte in an interview with CBC.
"I've also been hearing from teachers across the province about the lack of some specialized professionals within their schools, so occupational therapists, speech language therapists or mental health support."
Many students new to Sask.
The increase in enrolment is related to an increase of students new to the province, according to the Ministry of Education.
These include around 500 Ukrainian students, enrolled through the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel program, along with other refugee and immigrant families settling in the province.
In October, Saskatoon Public Schools said its newcomer centre saw a record number of children and families accessing its services throughout the summer and fall, counting 776 intakes compared with 262 in 2021.
"There are students new to Canada from a variety of places across the world coming in speaking different languages," said Becotte.
"Some of them have communities that they can join, and support through the community that they can access. But we see fewer and fewer supports within schools because divisions are having to make that difficult decision between what they can provide to students, because the funding is not there."
NDP calls funding 'a step in the right direction'
The additional dollars for school divisions announced Wednesday bring the operating budget to a total of more than $2 billion for the current school year, according to the Ministry of Education's news release.
Opposition NDP MLA Matt Love said he shares the province's excitement about the increase of kids in Saskatchewan's 27 school divisions, but that more needs to be done to help staff and students, especially children with intensive support needs.
"The $15.5 million in additional funds is a step in the right direction," he said.
"But by no means does that get our education system to where they need to be to meet the needs that students are bringing into the classroom this year."