STF not swayed by Moe’s $180M bump in education funding

Kayle Neis/Regina Leader-Post. Premier Scott Moe speaks at an event inside the University of Saskatchewan to unveil a new indoor aquatics facility heated by geothermal energy on Thursday, March 7, 2024 in Regina.

STF says its concern is the money, unless committed in a collective agreement, could be withdrawn with no recourse for teachers.

Alec Salloum, Regina Leader-Post

Premier Scott Moe said including new funding for education in the budget is “the ultimate contract” for the public and teachers in Saskatchewan.

But the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) said it needs contract language and accountability to get back to the bargaining table, vowing an “escalation of job action.”

In what he called a “very unusual step,” Moe took to social media on Wednesday and, pre-empting the March 20 budget, announced an additional $180 million to the education portion, about a nine-per-cent increase, bringing total funding to $2.2 billion.

Of that, $356 million will be “specifically allocated to classroom supports,” said Moe in the social media video, a 15-per-cent increase or $45 million more compared to the previous budget.

“That is not going to decrease as long as we are the government,” said Moe on Thursday.

“We do agree with teachers and parents that we do need to invest in classrooms supports and you’re seeing that.”

The premier said he hoped the offer would bring the STF back to the bargaining table while firmly stating the matter of classroom complexity and composition will remain outside of the collective bargaining process.

With the partial budget announced, the STF says there’s still a question of accountability.

The problem comes down to trust, STF president Samantha Becotte said Thursday from the legislature after question period. If the saying is burnt once twice shy, she contends teachers and students have recently been burnt twice in 2017 and 2018.

“Making a long-term commitment where there’s accountability and where there isn’t an exit strategy from it would build a huge amount of trust,” she said.

“We have been burned.”

When it comes to the money announced Wednesday, she said she and the STF want there to be conditions attached to ensure it makes its way into classrooms to address composition and complexity.

And while there are conditions on some of the additional money for classroom supports from the government, Becotte emphasized the union’s position that they “need assurances that school divisions are going to direct those funds to the classroom.”

“I want to make sure that dollars that leave Regina, those dollars hit the classroom floor,” said Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill, explaining that most of the targeted money to school boards will be conditional.

But Becotte’s fear is that after the election — which is set to occur on or before Oct. 28 — the province could unilaterally withdraw funding, which is why the federation seeks to enshrine it in the four-year collective agreement.

For students and teachers, the STF says it wants this “in the collective agreement, where there isn’t a clause where they can remove funding arbitrarily or where it can be grieved if they don’t uphold those commitments.”

Moe pointed to his past as reason for why teachers should trust his commitments.

“The very first decision I made in February of 2018, as the leader of the party and the premier of the province was to add $30 million into the education budget,” he said.

Cockrill said the new money is only for the upcoming school year, and beyond that he’s unable to speak on what future budgets will look like.

“If we have the opportunity to form government again this fall after the October election, I would look forward to making significantly more investment in education,” he said.

NDP Leader Carla Beck said there’s “two billion” reasons why people in Saskatchewan don’t trust the government’s budget, alluding to the province’s swing from a projected surplus of over $1 billion to a projected deficit of $250 million and $757 million in new spending approved through orders in council.

On whether the amount put forward by the government is adequate to address the issue at hand Beck said, “the dollar amount almost is secondary to the fact that no one trusts their numbers. No one trusts that they’re going to do what they say they’re going to do.”

Both Cockrill and Moe have recently leaned on the claim that over the past five months the STF has only done “30 minutes” of bargaining.

“We all, I think, collectively, just expect a little bit more,” said Moe.

Asked if 30 minutes was an accurate representation of how much time the two sides have spoken over the last five months, Cockrill said “according to the [GTBC] that would be an accurate representation.”

Becotte said there were five days of conciliation in December and the most recent sit down on Feb. 12 broke down after discussions were held between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. at which time both sides dispersed to discuss the offers. She said the government-trustee bargaining committee (GTBC) indicated they needed more time, requesting a delay in meeting until Feb. 13.

Later that day, the GTBC told the STF it would not be returning to bargain, according to Becotte.

“I think that the minister of education is either being not provided the full picture by the representatives at the table or not understanding the process of bargaining,” she said.