Saskatchewan's NDP wants to make education an election issue on the 2020 provincial campaign trail.
Party Leader Ryan Meili promised to reduce class sizes and hire more people to work in schools during an announcement on Thursday. The party's stance on education has been informed by having 14 candidates who are also teachers, he said.
"These are the folks who stepped up and said what's going on in my classroom is not OK. What my colleagues and I are dealing with, stress wise, is not OK. What we're putting kids through is not OK," Meili said.
Meili said the party doesn't have concrete evidence of how bad the overcrowding is because the Sask. Party "stopped counting classes back in 2013."
However, he said the NDP has repeatedly been told about class sizes pushing 30. Meili said that's too high and that the problem has been made worse by safety concerns as students go to school with the risk of COVID-19.
"This was bad before the pandemic. We already had overcrowded classrooms, more kids in our classrooms, more kids also are struggling with learning challenges, more kids with special needs, more kids with mental health troubles. More children were coming to school hungry," he said. "And yet the Sask. Party's response to those greater challenges has been fewer supports."
Meili promised to spend $125 million and said that could lead to the hiring of 1,000 teachers, 750 educational assistants and 400 custodial staff.
He said his party would work directly with school divisions to find appropriate class sizes. Meili acknowledged that working with portables and new schools would also be implemented in order to solve the overcrowding issue.
"This is where we really differ from this house party. We'll build the schools, but we'll also make sure the staff is in there to take care of the kids."
Meili was flanked by three candidates who are also teachers: Matthew Love, Carla Streeton and Gillian Strange — who is vying for a seat against Gord Wyant. Wyant was the Saskatchewan Party's most recent Minister of Education.
The event was held near the Lawson Heights School in Saskatoon Northwest, Strange and Wyant's riding. Strange spoke prior to Meili and invited Wyant to step aside, saying: "you've shown you're willing you're unwilling to listen." Strange said she wants a premier who will "fix the problems in education instead of ignoring them, a premier who will invest in our schools, not one that satisfied with the status quo."
Saskatchewan Party Leader Scott Moe, who was campaigning in Regina, was asked on Thursday if reducing class sizes and dealing with composition was in his plan.
He did not address his party's plan for class sizes or composition. Instead, he said the NDP didn't have a concrete plan for how it would spend the money it promised. He brought up new schools built under the Sask. Party and new staff hired for schools.
He also pointed to $150 million recently provided to schools. Half of that money came from the federal government to help schools reopen safely and $40 million came from the school divisions' savings.
The Sask. Party has two candidates who are teachers and one who is a substitute teacher.