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!