Reality check: How much funding is invested and how much is needed for First Nations schools?

Maclean's Magazine's latest cover points to ways the government wasted Canadians' money. Bayne Stanley/CP

TORONTO – Activists championing the cause for improving First Nations education have argued that Ottawa is shortchanging students on reserve, but Aboriginal Affairs has remained steadfast that its millions of dollars of funding have offered plenty of financial support.

Lengthy reports outlining the plight of First Nations students have been published year after year, while the government has made handfuls of announcements on pouring more funding into improving facilities and support.

The debate comes to a head in a few weeks when Ottawa will have to defend its decision-making and face the United Nations Rights of the Child committee, which will provide a review of Canada’s treatment of Aboriginal youth.

With information provided from both parties, Global News took a look at what First Nations advocates say they need and what the government says it’s funneled out.

Numbers, according to First Nations education advocates:

– $620 million – this was the funding shortfall in the 2009-2010 school year, according to the Assembly of First Nations
– $1.2 billion – this is the funding shortfall since 1996
– Students on reserve get between $2,000 and $3,000 less than their counterparts in the public school system
– 6.3 per cent – how much funding should increase annually based on steady growth and inflation, according to AFN
– $500 million – how much some advocates say First Nations students will need annually to provide students with proper schools, supplies and equipment
– $30 million – how much was required to build the school in Attawapiskat alone. While the government has pledged $175 million for rebuilding, activists say that the amount won’t suffice in repairing schools from coast to coast

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Statement: “(AANDC)’s chronic underfunding of First Nations schools has created a First Nations education funding shortfall across Canada,” a fact sheet provided by the Assembly of First Nations says.

From the watchdog’s mouth:

Snippets from reports tabled by the Parliamentary Budget Officer shed light on the condition of reserve schools.

From the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, 2009:

– There are about 520 band-operated schools in First Nations communities
– Only 49 per cent were listed in “good condition”
– 77 were deemed “temporary structures”
– 10 were closed because of dire conditions

Numbers, according to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada:

– $1.5 billion annually to support elementary and secondary school education for approximately 117,550 First Nations children. That’s $12,760.53 per child
– $200 million annually, this windfall for what’s called “major investments” to support school infrastructures in First Nations communities across the country
– $275 million was earmarked for First Nations education in the Economic Action Plan 2012; this incremental payment will help with early literacy programs, support and services to students
– $175 million was also allotted in the Economic Action Plan 2012 to help build and renovate schools on reserve
– $268 million, doled out over five years, has been promised through the Education Partnerships Program, and the First Nation Student Success Program, in 2008

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These figures were provided by a spokeswoman with AANDC:

Annual total investment in schools in recent years was:

• $195 million in 2006-2007;
• $244 million in 2007-2008;
• $208 million in 2008-2009;
• $277 million in 2009-2010; and
• $304 million in 2010-2011

The department also promises that by September 2014, a First Nation Education Act will be introduced in direct response to recommendations made by an independent panel investigation First Nations education.

Ottawa says it’s invested in 22 new schools, 22 major renovation projects and 184 projects involving minor repairs in a joint initiative with the Assembly of First Nations.

Statement: “We are taking steps to improve educational outcomes for First Nations students through education programs designed to help students succeed,” the spokeswoman said in an email to Global News.

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