No one could mistake the message or the resolve with which it was delivered.
Three thousand teachers, families and public education supporters gathered in front of the Legislative Building on Saturday, April 29 for an exuberant rally to decry cuts to education. Dubbed “Make Noise for Public Education,” the rally lived up to its billing with spontaneous chants of “enough is enough” and “Scott Moe go” ringing throughout the afternoon’s prepared speeches. Signs and placards reflecting the current struggle teachers and schools are having throughout the province waved in unison with the chants.
Children and families from Bellevue and Vonda waved signs in French while teachers adorned in shirts from their home schools, like Bulyea in the south of the Horizon School Division, joined with their voices.
Nathan Brom is a teacher, principal and parent from Rocanville. He is also the vice-president of the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation, the principal organizer of the rally. He reflected the impact of the stagnant funding in terms of what services were in jeopardy.
“I hear classrooms are larger while teachers and supports are less - less EAs, less counsellors, less psychologists, speech paths, occupational therapists. Double grades, triple grades and quads, multiple curricula, many learning needs, English as an Additional Language, mental health concerns, addictions, poverty, and the list goes on.”
Among the parade of speakers through the gusty afternoon was Maureen Johns, teacher and director from Pasqua First Nation.
“You feel that wind? Those are the winds of change. I spoke to many children in the audience as we were preparing for this moment. All of the kids here were carrying signs, and they are the subjects of why we are here together.”
The rally represents a tipping point for teachers’ frustration, noted STF President Samantha Becotte who opened the rally. Other presenters pointed out that the Sask Party government has repeatedly boasted historically high funding rates for education. The stated 2.5 percent increase of $49.9 million granted in the spring budget included normal operational funding owed to the province’s 27 school divisions. Strip away that obligation and the increase amounts to 0.7 percent, they noted. Speakers repeatedly pointed out that the government sits on a $1 billion surplus, some of which could be directed to public education.
Students themselves stood on the podium. Regina grade 11 student Anya Peppler spoke about her concerns over losing Advanced Placement programming that could impact her post-secondary future. A U of R student chronicled his time through Regina’s public schools, highlighting the shifts in resources and classroom crowding he’d witnessed during his 18 year trek since 2002.
Representatives from supporting unions and labour groups stepped to the mike to tell their stories. They included Laura Walton, President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ Ontario School Boards Council of Unions. She reminded participants of the drastic steps Ontario teachers and labour leaders took to counter the Doug Ford government. Jenny Regal of the Canadian Teachers Federation, and the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour’s Lori Johb brought their rallying cry.
In a post rally media statement, NDP Leader Carla Beck made it clear that the concerns the NDP had been forwarding in the spring session are those of thousands of educators.
“When we had Sask Party ministers tell us this week that the NDP are the only ones who cared about class sizes, to come out here and see this crowd today, thousands of people who took time out of their Saturday to stand up and be counted and say we demand better funding for our education system, it was so heartening. It fills me with so much hope for the future of this province.”
There was no apparent representation by the government at the rally.