By Mary Golem
CHESLEY - Bluewater school board trustees want “the inequity stopped and the gap closed” when it comes to education funding for First Nations students in Ontario.
“Things we take for granted that support student learning – libraries, sports, computers – they’re not available to our First Nations’ students and that’s just wrong,” Kincardine-area trustee Jan Johnstone said, after putting forth a motion calling for the Prime Minister and Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Canada for a “full statutory guarantee for funding for education for First Nation children that is stable, sustainable and needs-based” for both current and future generations of First Nation children.
Johnstone, the board’s rep on the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, says OPSBA has endorsed a Charter of Commitment on First Nation, Metis and Inuit Education for K-12 students which Johnstone says is consistent with the First Nation, Metis and Inuit Education Policy Framework “and puts forth a strength-based set of values to promote success.” Johnstone wanted Bluewater trustees to endorse the same charter.
"We need an attitude adjustment when it comes to First Nation education funding,” Johnstone said, saying there is strong local support for adopting the Charter of Commitment.
“It’s been 25 years since it (and the funding formula) has been updated – it is long overdue.”
One of two First Nations trustees on the board, Theressa Roote said many people don’t understand “the hard life we have faced, and the many challenges . . . it is important for all to understand our shared history and then build a better system for our future children. Partnerships and relationships are important now and in the future.”
Both Roote and Johnstone said efforts must also be made to “confront the knowledge gap” that exists with both teachers and students.
Funding for First Nations schools is determined by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada but Johnstone maintains “they are using an outdated national funding formula.” Chronic underfunding of First Nations schools created a First Nation education funding shortfall of $747 million in 2010-11 and a cumulative funding shortfall of over $3 billion since 1996 when the formula was last updated.
The funding shortfall, Johnstone noted, does not include costs needed to support other educational components such as libraries and technology.
In 1996, on average $5,544 per student was provided to First Nations students while provincial schools received $6,376. In 2010-11, First Nations’ funding was at $7,101 while provincial funding was $10,578 per student.