Parents decry language schools cuts in Saskatchewan budget

After 25 years, province will discontinue annual $225,000 for heritage language schools

REGINA – Parents and volunteers say they fear the Saskatchewan government’s decision to cut all funding for heritage language learning will mean the loss of culture.

The province has said that after 25 years, it’s discontinuing the annual $225,000 that heritage language schools get in the budget.

Tamara Ruzic, executive director of the Saskatchewan Organization for Heritage Languages, says the money means everything to more than 70 non-profit educational groups.

“Well, we’re looking at potentially having some, especially smaller schools, shut down without this,” Ruzic said Monday at the legislature in Regina.

“We’re going to do our very best and they’re all very dedicated volunteers who will do their best, but they’re facing big expenses like transportation and various different things that just cannot be covered without this grant.”

About 4,000 students retain their native language through classes taught by volunteer teachers on evenings and weekends. The classes are in addition to time students spend at school during the day.

Most parents already pay tuition ranging from about $10 to $50 a month, although Ruzic says it can be tough for new immigrants to come up with the money.

Mdjashim Uddin moved from Bangladesh about four years ago and says without the language schools his children will forget how to speak and write their native language.

“Heritage is a continuous process, thousands and thousands and thousands, hundreds and hundreds of years. You discontinue it one or two years or three years, then it will die,” said Uddin.

Education Minister Don Morgan says the decision was not taken lightly, but the government needs to focus on core programming as it faces a deficit.

In February, Finance Minister Kevin Doherty said the province was expecting a $427-million deficit for the fiscal year that ended on March 31. At that time, Doherty said the province was aiming for a $259-million deficit in the 2016-17 budget coming in June.

Premier Brad Wall has warned that number could be higher when the budget is tabled Wednesday.

“We have to look at everything that we do. This was one that was not core to the education service that we provide. It was essentially an after-school or an extracurricular-type program,” said Morgan.

Morgan says there are language classes included in the regular curriculum that children can take, including Ukrainian, German, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish and Cree.