First Nations children living on reserve receive at least 30 per cent less funding for their education as children under provincial jurisdiction, according to a former chief economist with the TD Bank.
Don Drummond's assertion runs counter to testimony from a senior official with the department of Indigenous Affairs last week during an inquest into the deaths of seven First Nations students in Thunder Bay, Ont.
The funding formulas of the provinces and the federal government "don't align," Jonathan Allen told the inquest. "They can't be compared the same way and that may lead to a perception of a gap."
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But Drummond says the discrepancy is real, although he agrees it was difficult to calculate when he studied the issue in his 2013 report: The Debate on First Nations Education Funding: Mind the Gap.
"With all the numbers in hand, I thought it was within the vicinity of about a 30 per cent funding gap," said Drummond. "So for every dollar a province would spend, the First Nations schools were only getting 70 cents."
First Nations school officials say a funding shortfall prevents them from providing additional support to students who must leave their remote First Nations to attend high school in the city.
The seven students whose deaths are being examined by the inquest died between 2000 and 2011. All of them were attending First Nations private schools, funded by the federal government.
In his testimony, Allen refused to say whether the level of funding for First Nations schools is sufficient.
"It's a value judgement," Allen told the inquest. "I can't make a determination of what is enough [funding]."
If you factor in the increased expenses First Nations schools incur from their remote location and their small size, Drummond said the gap may be greater than 30 per cent.
There is a direct correlation between education outcomes and standard of living, including "health, happiness and community engagement."
First Nations children "have been deprived of that for a very long time and I think that needs to change," he said.
The Liberals election promise of $2.6 billion for First Nations education could largely close the gap, whether their bureaucrats agree it exists or not, Drummond said.
"Maybe at this point it doesn't matter what [the gap] is, as long as we move forward," he said. "Leave the rest to history."