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Question Period
(8 March 2012)

From Hansard. Go page 9 out of 32.

Funding for Education

The Speaker: — I recognize the Minister of Education.

Hon. Ms. Harpauer: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I have met with the SSBA [Saskatchewan School Boards Association] on this particular issue and their press release and reminded them of the consultation process. And they do know and they have the report. The media has actually the report as well.

The media have the report of the consultation process that was started, quite frankly, when the NDP were in power. The consultation began then. All of the stakeholders were involved: STF [Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation], SSBA, the LEADS [League of Educational Administrators, Directors and Superintendents], as well as the independent school associations, were involved in the consultation. There was recommendations that came forward. And we didn’t act on them immediately, Mr. Speaker, because the priority of course was to focus on working on the funding formula. But now we have acted on that report, Mr. Speaker, and the recommendations were that we do the same as other Western Canadian provinces and have recognition of independent schools.

The Speaker: — I recognize the member for Regina Rosemont.

Mr. Wotherspoon: — Mr. Speaker, a ministry will always be reviewing different aspects of a respective ministry and that does not count as consultation in any way, shape, or form. And I know that the education sector and the stakeholders — the SSBA, the STF, LEADS, across the piece — they in no way have been consulted on this front. And in fact they didn’t even have a funding formula for three years running when this surprise announcement to divert funding came along. This diversion of millions of education dollars has been widely criticized and rightfully so. There was no consultation. There are pressing needs and opportunities in education and now the government’s threatening cuts. Will the minister do the right thing and scrap this damaging program?

The Speaker: — I recognize the Minister of Education.

Hon. Ms. Harpauer: — As I said in my previous answer, Mr. Speaker, there was an independent schools review. The review began under the NDP. All of the specific stakeholder groups had representation, and there was recommendations. Mr. Speaker, I know that this member keeps saying again and again and again that we’re diverting funding from the existing $1.7 billion education budget. That is not true. The up to 1.7 million, not billion, will be new dollars and the schools that will receive it will have accountability.

Our number one goal is to serve all students in Saskatchewan. And we are going to improve student achievement. Schools that meet a certain criteria that will focus on student achievement will receive 50 per cent funding, the same as other provinces in Western Canada, including their NDP neighbours in Manitoba.

The Speaker: — I recognize the member for Regina Rosemont.

Mr. Wotherspoon: — It’s sort of interesting, Mr. Speaker. The minister says they’re not diverting funding. I guess they’re just sending new money, millions of dollars, to previously unfunded private, independent schools at the same time as they’re cutting resources in the classroom and boards across Saskatchewan. If that’s not diverting dollars, I don’t know what is, Mr. Speaker.

Another example of mismanagement . . . [inaudible interjection] . . . A question I heard opposite, where are they cutting funds? Better consult with the Education minister because there’s cases of that all across the province right here and now.

Another example of mismanagement in education is the government’s high-interest loan scheme. In 2009, the Sask Party took complete control of education funding, stripping away the school boards’ ability to collect any revenues, but nonsensically still require boards to contribute a 35 per cent share for infrastructure. Without revenues and no abilities for boards to build reserve funds, school boards are now forced to borrow that share at a much higher rate than government, wasting millions needlessly on high interest. Question to the minister: how does this make any sense?

The Speaker: — I recognize the Minister of Education.

Hon. Ms. Harpauer: — School divisions have always funded a share of their capital projects and they used various methods to do so, Mr. Speaker. Some borrowed from traditional lenders, which is seeming to cause now the NDP problems, but yet under the NDP they still borrowed from traditional lenders. Some issued debentures but very, very infrequent, and in fact the last one was in 2006 and none have attempted to do so since.

So, Mr. Speaker, we’re not reinventing anything too dynamic here. They did go to traditional institutions for borrowing in the past. What is changing, quite frankly, Mr. Speaker, is we used to have tax revolts in our province and now we don’t. The school division debt was never transparent; it was hidden. Now it’s in the summary financial statements. They used to ignore crumbling schools. They didn’t have to borrow if we don’t build schools. Now we’re building schools across our province. We used to have mill rates increasing by 5 per cent every year. Now we don’t. There used to be an NDP government and now there’s not.

The Speaker: — I recognize the member for Regina Rosemont.

Mr. Wotherspoon: — Mr. Speaker, as the Premier’s come back to Saskatchewan from Ireland here this week, it might be interesting for him to learn that in his home community of Swift Current, they’re hiking property taxes by 8 per cent and likely more, as we move forward with off-loading at so many levels and certainly from this government.

When the government took over full control of education funding in 2009, this arrangement should have changed. Or at least now, as a new education funding formula has been introduced, it should have been corrected.

Mr. Speaker, if the government is looking for inefficiency and waste, I found it in their high-interest loan scheme. It is wasting valuable education dollars and at a time when this government’s threatening cuts. Will the minister do the right thing and commit to fix this today?

The Speaker: — I recognize the Minister of Education.

Hon. Ms. Harpauer: — Mr. Speaker, what the government’s going to do, it’s going to focus on student achievement. It’s going to focus on a strong education system. We increased funding for education by over 18 per cent in our very first term. Mr. Speaker, we’re going to commit to building schools and repairing schools in this province, something the NDP did not do. And we inherited $1.2 billion of a disaster in school facilities, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the school divisions had the power to borrow from traditional lenders before. They will still have the power to borrow from traditional lenders. This is not unique or new. It’s just the NDP didn’t even know what the heck the school divisions were doing before.

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