The federal government has committed $74.9 million to Saskatchewan to help school divisions prepare for the return to class.
"As we work with our sector partners to ensure a safe return to school, we know that there will be increased costs associated with staffing, preparation and supplies," said provincial Education Minister Gordon Wyant in a statement.
On Wednesday, the federal government pledged $2 billion to provinces and territories for the safe reopening of schools. A portion of the money will be given out this fall, with the rest expected in 2021.
The money can be used to help adapt learning spaces, improve air ventilation, increase hand sanitation and hygiene, and buy extra personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies.
"Our children must be safe in the classroom. That's non-negotiable," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday. "No parent should be losing sleep because they have to go back to work, but aren't confident schools are properly prepared."
The federal government also announced $112 million for schools on First Nations communities.
Trudeau said a safe return to school is critical to restarting the economy.
The federal government will let the provinces decide how to spend the money. It was divided based on the number of children aged four to 18 in a province with a base of $2 million to start.
Sask. to make school divisions apply for funds
The Saskatchewan government said the money will be added to a pool of $40 million taken from the COVID-19 contingency fund and $40 million in school division savings from 2019-20.
"With the federal government's contribution, there is now up to $150 million available to our education sector for costs associated with a safe return to school," Wyant said.
The provincial government said the money will be available throughout the school year. However, the deadline for the first intake of funding applications closes Thursday.
Wyant said there have only been two applications for funding so far, but he expects that number will rise. He said government will have a deadline for another round of applications in October and then on a quarterly basis.
The government did not indicate how much money will be given out or what the criteria to receive funding are, but Wyant said Wednesday the priorities are supporting immunocompromised students, resources for online learning, supplies and staffing.
He said school divisions saved $40 million because COVID-19 suspended the school year, but he said spending those savings is not a requirement to receiving the new money from the province or Ottawa.
Wyant said a condition of the federal funding is to report on how the money is being spent. Reports are due in December.
The province also provided an update on masks Wednesday morning. It said the first shipment of six million masks has been distributed to school divisions in addition to face shields. It said the second shipment of masks is expected to be delivered during the first week of school.
Sask. Teachers' Federation 'very excited' by new money
Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation president Patrick Maze said he is "very excited" by the funding announced by Ottawa.
Maze said the money may allow some schools that are overcrowded to move into a community centre or a town hall to support physical distancing.
"For example, in Regina and Saskatoon we know that the universities aren't offering face-to-face instruction. So there should theoretically be quite a bit of space there that school divisions could make an offer to the universities in order to lease them space with this money."
He said the money could also help with ventilation concerns.
"My hope would be this money from Prime Minister Trudeau would be immediately passed on to school divisions so that they could quickly tender repairs to those facilities that need them, so schools that need upgrades to H-VAC systems will get them quickly," Maze said Wednesday.
Maze said it has been "incredibly difficult" for school divisions to know they have secure funding. He said the best thing would be for the money to be given directly to divisions, the sooner the better.
NDP hopes money will be used to reduce class sizes
Saskatchewan NDP education critic Carla Beck said the province should use the federal government money to reduce class sizes.
"Our classrooms are too crowded now because they were too crowded before," Beck said.
"School divisions still aren't sure what, if any, additional funding they will receive, or if the government will claw back funding at the end of September if enrolment declines due to COVID-19."
Beck admitted that with school starting in less than two weeks, coming up with plans to reduce class sizes will be "very difficult."
She encouraged the government to be open about how the money will be allocated to the school divisions.
"I think this has to be highly transparent and this has to be fast-tracked," Beck said.