Taylor Flowe, unplash.com

Regina schools weather Ukrainian refugee surge

  • April 28, 2023

Record student enrolment, largely due to an influx of Ukrainian refugees, sees administrators with the Regina Catholic School Division seeking a careful reassessment of needs going into the 2023-2024 school year.

The influx of refugee students throughout the school year has strained the budget for the current academic year, says Twylla West, the board’s communications and media coordinator. Typically, students moving in and out of the system even out over an academic year, but that has not been the case since schools opened their doors to Ukrainian refugees after the Russian invasion of their homeland in February 2022, West said.

The board’s total student population has reached an unprecedented 12,799. At the same time last year, enrolment was at 11,994, amounting to an increase of more than 800 students that was unexpected when the budget was set.

Funding for the school year is finalized at the beginning of each academic year and is largely based on the projected per-head cost of students. The mid-year influx of displaced Ukrainians has left the board short at least $500,000 and scrambling to reallocate funds to support the hiring of additional educational assistants.

“The creativity and flexibility of our staff is phenomenal, but I really hope that we won’t have to lean on that nearly as much into next year,” said West. “The 2023-24 school year budget is going to be tricky.”

The federal government has been offering temporary shelter to Ukrainian refugees under the Canada Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) program. The special measure to expedite visas and temporary residence permits was to expire March 31 but has been extended to July 31, and for approved applicants until March 31, 2024.

Between March 17, 2022, and April 8 this year, more than 148,000 people have arrived in Canada under CUAET.

Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Education in 2022 made changes to The Education Regulations, 2019, to ensure students arriving through the CUAET program receive tuition-free education. The ministry reports that next year’s budget will provide further funding for enrolment growth with an extra $49.4 million allotted to education. Regina Catholic Schools is expected to receive approximately $121.6 million through the school operating grant, an increase of $5.1 million or 4.4 per cent over the 2022-2023 budget funding, said the ministry in a statement.

The Ministry says school divisions across the province in total received an additional $15.5 million since the start of the 2022-2023 school year to support higher than projected enrolment growth. Regina Catholic Schools received $2.3 million of that, says the ministry.

With enrolment growth funding for the next school year allocated based on projections provided by the school divisions, West hopes the ministry will consider a mid-year re-evaluation of supports to mitigate issues in future years. 

“This is the crazy time of the school year when we are in this year but have one foot in next year as well,” said West. “As we work on that budgeting, we’re just hopeful that our support folks at the Ministry of Education are looking into what they can do to help.”

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