Provincial neighbours show the way to a better Saskatchewan education system
If Saskatchewan looks at its neighbours, there are opportunities for us to strengthen our education system while shrinking the bill we’re leaving to our kids to pay for it.
First, here’s some important context: Canada has one of the highest ranked education systems in the world, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. However, here in Saskatchewan, we also have to be honest about something: within Canada’s high-performing system, Saskatchewan is behind other provinces.
Saskatchewan’s education system ranked below the Canadian average and got a D from the Conference Board of Canada a few years ago.
Saskatchewan’s education system made news again in 2016 when the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment ranked Saskatchewan last among Canadian provinces in science, reading and math. In fact, Saskatchewan’s math scores were below the OECD average.
The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation responded by suggesting the results should be viewed within the context of other studies such as the Pan-Canadian Assessment Program. That study also shows Saskatchewan students scores are significantly below the national average in reading, math and science.
It seems clear Saskatchewan can do better, so how do we do it?
More money doesn’t seem to be the answer.
Saskatchewan spent $14,947 per student in 2014-15, according to the Ministry of Finance. That was the highest per-student funding in Canada. The funding increased by nearly 20 per cent since 2010-11. Education now accounts for 22 per cent of the province’s 2018-19 budget. For context, Alberta spent $13,035 per student and British Columbia spends $11,275 – both provinces have highly ranked education systems.
Saskatchewan teachers’ salaries range from $58,617 to $90,976. That’s higher than most provinces and many are significantly lower. B.C.’s range is from $49,376 to $78,757 and Quebec’s range is from $44,985 to $80,572. While Saskatchewan teachers’ salaries continue to rise steadily, overall Saskatchewan incomes have fallen for two consecutive years, according to Statistics Canada.
It’s also important to put education spending in the context of the province’s overall budget. Saskatchewan is currently projecting an operational deficit of $348 million. We’re paying $635 million to cover the interest provincial loans. Saskatchewan’s taxpayer-supported debt has gone from $4.1 billion in 2009 to $10.8 billion in 2019 (not including Crown corporation debt). The increased and expanded PST costs Saskatchewanians nearly a billion dollars a year.
The growing debt is particularly sobering because that’s a bill we’re leaving for the next generation.
But saving money is only part of the equation – we also have to hold the province accountable to deliver a better education for our kids. That’s obviously a complicated question. But increasing school choice is intriguing.
Alberta supports a wider range of educational options at a lower cost to parents. The majority of students go to traditional public schools. But Alberta also supports charter schools that are community run, don’t charge tuition and receive operational funding from the province. The schools focus on everything from English as a second language to First Nations’ culture. While charter schools tailor opportunities to their students and produce better results, they also raise their own capital funding and that saves the province money. The system works so well that it’s been maintained by both Conservative and NDP governments.
Most of B.C.’s 550,000 students go to traditional schools, but 80,000 students go to independent schools. As with Alberta, B.C. provides parents and students with more options to pick schools that meet their goals. And, again, independent schools often offer efficiencies for the overall education system. B.C.’s system has been maintained by both Liberal and NDP governments.
Giving students and parents more choices might be a good way to strengthen our Saskatchewan’s education system while reducing the debt we’re leaving for our kids and grandkids.