Submitted by Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta
(Edmonton, Alberta – February 4, 2019) – Recently, the Minister of Indigenous Services and the Assembly of First Nations announced a brand new negotiated policy on First Nations K-12 Education for on-reserve students. This policy is supposed to ensure that students benefit from support comparable to what’s offered in provincial school systems but that is not what’s happening on the ground.
“I’ve just seen my new funding agreement,” states Chief Gerald Giroux of Swan River First Nation and Deputy Grand Chief of Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta, “and my community is getting a significant reduction in funding this year than last year even though we already get less than provincial schools.
“The Minister (of Indigenous Services) is talking about comparable support but how does cutting funding to my students help that? If the total allocation is still the same, then where did the money that was cut out of my budget go? I’m hearing from some other Chiefs across Canada that they weren’t consulted about these changes either, this is not just a local issue.”
The disparity in education funding between public schools under the jurisdiction of Alberta Education and on-reserve schools under the jurisdiction of the Government of Canada has been an issue for years. One estimate from Statistics Canada said that an average per student per year is about $14,000.00 in Alberta’s provincially funded system. On-reserve schools receive significantly less than that per student, many thousands of dollars less.
“Before this new policy, we were already lagging very far behind in delivering the kind of quality education our children need and a huge stumbling block has always been funding,” states Arthur Noskey, Grand Chief of Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta.
“If you want to recruit and retain good teachers in your community, you should be at least able to pay them as much as they can get in the city, otherwise why would they leave? Not only can we not pay them as much, we have to pay them even less. It becomes very difficult to run a school where you have less money in every category. The Minister is talking about predictable, stable funding, but what I have heard means that the gap between us and Alberta Education schools is still very much there and now, is getting worse. If AFN thinks this new agreement is so great, maybe they want to try taking over education, they will find out very quickly how hard it is to run a school at a fraction of the funding.”
But it’s not just the funding cuts that hurt, they have changed his agreement to make it less flexible than it was.
“We used to be able to shift where we spend money to try and make the most out of what little we have,” states Chief Giroux before concluding, “but now, based on the new funding block I am moved into, I no longer have the flexibility to move it to where it’s needed most. Ottawa is telling me specifically how I need to use my education dollars. These changes are supposed to give us more control? The announcement and what I am seeing in my community doesn’t match up at all.”