Partnerships can end Aboriginal school funding gap

Courtesy John Woods, CP

We know that there is a huge gap between federal funding for Aboriginal elementary and secondary schools on reserves compared to what provincial and territorial governments pay for similar non-Native schools. But, do most of us have any idea how big that gap actually is? 

Well,  the reality is that the federal government pays between one-third and 40% LESS per pupil than their provincial counterparts, regardless of which political party is governing. So, if the per pupil grant is $10,000 for non-Aboriginal students, it could be anywhere between $6670 to  $6000 for Native students.

As a retired educator, I can tell you that is a HUGE gap — between $3330 and $4000 a student — particularly given the cost of keeping good teachers, buying textbooks and using assistive technologies that are current.

Put succinctly, if regular public schools were denied what that money can buy, provincial and territorial graduation rates would be as low as they are on reserves.

So, what is the solution? Shovel more money into Aboriginal allocations — or — develop federal government, school board and reserve partnership agreements that can narrow or end the gap altogether?

Sound unrealistic? Well, read this Macleans article by Andrew Stobo Sniderman.  In it he explains a funding model that if generalized and tweeked to accommodate the needs and concerns of different Aboriginal and municipal Canadian communities, could very well be the solution to ending the gap.  

For example, Sniderman compares per pupil funding at Rossburn Collegiate (located some four hours west of Winnipeg), compared to Waywayseecappo Reserve School a few kilomters down the road. Prior to Waywayseecappo joining the public board, the Reserve school struggled.

Then note what happened when the funding was equalized and specialized services were made available for students having reading and learning difficulties. In Sniderman’s words, the transformation was remarkable!

So, let’s credit all sides in this breakthrough, particularly Waywayseecappo Chief Murray Clearsky. In relation to the Chief, Sniderman writes:

“The reserve will continue to oversee curriculum and effectively drafts its own budget independently. ‘I am not giving up much authority for the amount of good education we are getting,’ says Clearsky. ‘With more resources, the kids are already doing better.’ He’s also now fielding questions from other reserves hoping to emulate the model.  

And, fielding questions from other reserves can only be a good thing as can setting aside partisan bickering. In this case in point, we have a provincial NDP government and a Conservative federal government working with the Waywayseecappo First Nations.  Good on them all!

2 thoughts on “Partnerships can end Aboriginal school funding gap

  1. Not to put a fine point on it, but there is plenty of money for native education. Sadly, the Canadian taxpayers don’t get to see the books in most reservations, so there is no accountability as to where the money is actually going. Judging by the dismal results, you can be sure the money is not going to schools on the reservation (or housing, or healthcare, or job creation, or….)


  2. Thucydides, I thought the same thing initially, that there was enough money. That it was just bad management.

    Then I dug a little deeper and discovered that just as with the provinces, education grants go directly to the reserve’s education fund.

    The reality is the Manitoba reserve school mentioned in this post used the funds it received but couldn’t make ends meet. Now, within the public board, everything has improved.

    Meaning, that if the provinces and territories make agreements regarding Native education, there will be the acountability that is needed.

    I can see the Natives’ point of view. I would not like it if my CPP pension came with strings attached, where I had to prove what I spent it on. Checking every penny is just more paternalism.

    Human nature being what it is, there is corruption everywhere.

    Anyway, rather than make assumptions, this example shows that it’s not all about bad management. However, what it also shows is that Native band councils are going to have to give up some control if they want things to improve for their children.


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