Religious Education in Saskatchewan
In Saskatchewan, there are various levels of funding for religious-based schools. The obvious example is that of the various Catholic school divisions around the province, which are fully funded similar to public schools. There are also a number of independent private schools that receive limited funding from the Government of Saskatchewan. Many questions might be raised in response to this information. Why is the Saskatchewan government continuing to fund independent private schools and separate school divisions? Why did it start funding them in the first place? Should it continue? As ever, the answer is complicated.
In Saskatchewan, there are various levels of funding for religious-based schools. The obvious example is that of the various Catholic school divisions around the province, which are fully funded similar to public schools. There are also a number of independent private schools that receive limited funding from the Government of Saskatchewan.
Evidently, not everybody in the province is satisfied with this situation. A recent survey by the University of Saskatchewan Canadian Hub for Applied and Social Research in collaboration with CBC Saskatchewan found that less than half (46.4 percent) of respondents supported government funding of independent private schools .
This could be for any number of reasons, but one that is likely is the recent surge in news regarding situations of abuse out of religious children’s institutions. A small number of Christian organizations around the province have been accused of such misconduct as physical abuse and exorcisms. This is obviously horrific regardless of its source, but when these organizations are funded by the government, it becomes even more infuriating.
Many questions might be raised in response to this information. Why is the Saskatchewan government continuing to fund independent private schools and separate school divisions? Why did it start funding them in the first place? Should it continue? As ever, the answer is complicated.
At this point, one might object on a number of grounds. First, not all religious schools are involved in the current controversy. Catholic school boards especially have escaped it, and those are the religious school boards that receive the most funding from the Government. Abuse happens in all schools, regardless of their affiliation with a religion or lack thereof.
That is all true, but it does not change the fact that Saskatchewan is becoming an increasingly diverse province. If these schools no longer represent the people of this province, why are they funded like it?
Well, it is complicated. There is a long history to it, and there is a long list of legislation. Essentially, Catholics in the province, indeed across the country, have been fighting for religious-based schooling for centuries. At Confederation in 1867, one of the most contentious issues was whether to include the right to denominational schooling in the Constitution . In Saskatchewan, there were schools run by churches about as soon as European settlers arrived, but the right to denominational schooling in the province was affirmed in The Saskatchewan Act, 1905 .
In the first half of the 20th Century, there was much growth in Catholic schooling across the province, with many school boards being created. There was also a great deal of push-back on the idea of separate school divisions for Catholic folks; there was pressure to eliminate these schools. In the latter half of the Century, however, Catholic education in the province grew and became what it is today. In 1978, the Education Act reaffirmed the right to denominational schooling .
That brings us to today. Today, approximately one-third of Saskatchewan’s population is Catholic, according to the Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association . According to the 2011 census by Statistics Canada, that number is about 29.5%. As indicated above, that number seems to be declining slowly as Canada and Saskatchewan become more diverse (and less religious).
So is there still a place for publicly funded denominational schooling in Saskatchewan? Or should all religious-based education be privately funded? The Saskatchewan Catholic community has long fought for their own schooling, and minority religious education is enshrined in the Constitution. But maybe it has outlived its relevance.
 Laura Sciarpelleti, “Sask. survey on gov’t funding independent education find less support for religious-based schools than others” (12 October 2022), CBC, online: <https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/more-people-support-provincial-funding-of-private-schools-compared-to-religious-based-schools-1.6613769>.
 Paul M. Newton, “Separate School Divisions”, The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan, online: <https://esask.uregina.ca/entry/separate_school_divisions.jsp>.
 The Saskatchewan Act, 1905, SC 1905, c. 42, s 17.
 Refer to Note 2.
 “Catholic Education in Saskatchewan”, Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association, online: <https://www.catholicedspirit.ca/>.