Since 2016, the federal government has committed additional funding to address the discrepancy between on-reserve and off-reserve students. But the commitments fell short of earlier election promises.
The Call to Action:
We call upon the federal government to eliminate the discrepancy in federal education funding for First Nations children being educated on reserves and those First Nation children being educated off reserves.
In August 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government announced $112 million would be provided to support a safe return to elementary and secondary schools on reserves.
But First Nations leaders said the funding fell short of meeting the needs of the schools, particularly when compared to funds provided to schools off reserves.
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron, who is the AFN regional chief for Saskatchewan, said the more than 630 First Nations across Canada needed about $1 billion to fully prepare for the restart of classes amid the pandemic.
In April 2019, Indigenous Services Canada began implementing a new approach to First Nations elementary and secondary education, co-developed with First Nations education leaders and experts from across the country.
It was to also provide additional funding to on-reserve schools for language and culture programming and full-time kindergarten.
In the 2016 federal budget, the Liberals committed to spending $2.6 billion in additional dollars over five years on kindergarten to Grade 12 education on reserve. But the commitment fell short of a 2015 campaign promise, and much of that funding — $801 million — was backloaded to 2020-2021.
A further 25 per cent of it was to be withheld to cover back expenses.
The five-year plan was an alteration of the Liberals’ 2015 federal election campaign promise, when they committed to fast-track the spending over four years, not five, to better address more emergent shortfalls in education.
In October 2016, via emails obtained through access to information, CBC News revealed that most of the funding the Liberals had committed to Indigenous education was not new funding, but rather a reassignment of funds the former Conservative government had earlier set aside.
Documents obtained through access to information revealed the Conservatives, when they were in office, earmarked the funding for Bill C-33 (the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act), a bill that was eventually shelved.
When Liberals took office, they learned they no longer had access to that funding, thus the decision to spread the funding over five years instead of four, and backloading much of the spending in the year after the next federal election.
In December 2016, the Parliamentary Budget Officer released a report that revealed the education funding gap was estimated at $665 million; that represented the difference between (the former) Indigenous and Northern Affairs funding for on-reserve schools, and the funding that occurs through provincially run public schools.