May 4, 2023, Global News: Sask. school rejecting special needs students highlights need for education supports https://globalnews.ca/news/9671272/sask-schools-special-needs-students-funding/amp/
Reports by Saskatchewan educational administrators that were investigating three Qualified Independent Schools in the province had one report that said school registration procedures indicated students with learning challenges or special needs would not be admitted.
These reports were released after the Saskatchewan NDP submitted a freedom of information request and brought into question funding for education in the province.
“Regardless of where a student lives, or their personal circumstances, or their disability status, they are welcomed in our schools,” said Saskatchewan School Board Association President Jaimie Smith-Windsor.
“The diversity we see in our communities is reflected in the diversity we see in our classrooms and publicly-funded schools.”
She said funding for those supports comes through the provincial government, but noted that area of the budget is becoming more and more challenging to meet the needs of all students.
“With increased needs comes increased costs.”
Smith-Windsor explained that part of the education budget is labelled “supports for learning,” part of which is specifically allocated to help students with increased needs.
Funding for student education in Saskatchewan is on a per-student basis and doesn’t take into account special needs, location, or any other factors.
“Boards receive funding for intensive needs through that very complex formula, but increasingly what we are hearing is that it is a challenge to meet the growing needs of
students with diverse needs with the funding that is allocated through that funding model.” She said boards will try to find efficiencies within their own budget to make sure they can continue to offer those services, but noted there are growing unmet needs within the system.
Smith-Windsor said the extra funding schools received in 2022 was conditional and needed to be spent in a specific way, adding that money didn’t alleviate pressures schools might have seen in other areas like offering supports for intensive needs….
“Becotte said they might have described the education budget in 2015 as tight, but said this year’s budget is far worse.
“This goes beyond that, we continue to see year-after-year cuts to programs and cuts to supports in classrooms, and this budget doesn’t change that.”
She said schools face difficult decisions in the fall, noting that after a decade of tough decisions, there’s not much left to cut.
Among those cuts over the past decade have been several supports for students, Becotte said, giving an example of situations where educational psychologists have been restricted.
“Many students are waiting up to a year, if not longer, to get their assessments done.”
Becotte said additional educational assistants could be used, as well as speech-language pathologists, noting many rural schools have no access to those supports at all.
“We need more teachers in the province. Our classrooms are really expanding at a rate that is unsustainable.”
She said Saskatchewan has fallen behind in education, ranking eighth in the country.
Becotte explained that schools have moved to a model that includes students with additional needs in the classroom alongside other students.
“As they should be, they should be in the classroom like all other students.”
She said these inclusive classroom models need to be supported, and that all the demands of the students can’t fall on a single teacher.
“Kids deserve to be supported,” Becotte added.
Shane Skjerven is the director of education with Saskatoon Public Schools and said John Dolan School is a special school in Saskatoon for kids with multiple complex or medical needs.
“We have 60 students at John Dolan School. Every student at John Dolan School requires one-to-one or continuous care from the time they arrive at school in the morning until the time they leave,” Skjerven said.
He added 21 students are on a waiting list to get into John Dolan.
He said they have about 10 or 11 teachers, 50 educational assistants, two full-time nursing staff, as well as contracts for occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, and an educational psychologist.
Skjerven said due to the significant needs of these students they wouldn’t be successful in a traditional classroom setting.
He said they have to support the services at John Dolan, which means they’re having to take money from other parts within their organization to supplement the school.
“It’s not like we’re going to be reducing services at John Dolan, because we just cannot, given the level of need for the student.”
Skjerven said John Dolan pulls from the supports for learning category, which he said faces a deficit each year. Improved funding, he said, is essential….
Daniel Burke, the chief financial officer with Saskatoon Public Schools, said a lot of resources go into John Dolan School.
Saskatoon Public Schools is facing a $2.3-million shortfall, with Burke saying they are facing increased class sizes with decreased resources.
Burke said schools do get increased funding each year, but it’s not enough.
“Every single year the increase that we get in funding is less than inflation,” Burke said.
He said they can manage to balance the budget one year, but said they are right back facing a deficit the next year.
“It’s not because we’ve mismanaged, it’s not because we’ve overspent, it’s not because of unscheduled issues that arise, that’s simply because our funding isn’t keeping up with inflation.”