Myths and Realities of First Nations Education

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Unlike in our provincial education systems, there are no minimum legislated education standards for on-reserve First Nations students. Canadian taxpayers are funding an education system in First Nations communities that has no legislated mandate for a core curriculum meeting provincial standards, no requirement that educators in First Nations schools have provincial certification, and no requirement for First Nations schools to award a recognized provincial diploma. This system is clearly failing First Nations children.

Several persistent myths have distorted discussion of First Nations education on reserve. First, numerous First Nations organizations have raised concerns over the two percent cap on education funding in place since the 1990s. However, the total expenditure for First Nations education since 2006 has been growing at a rate higher than the two percent cap. The overall operating expenditure for elementary and secondary students living on reserve is the same, on average, as that for other Canadian elementary and secondary students—in some cases more.

Second, 40 percent of all students who live on reserve attend an elementary or high school off reserve. In Ontario, the tuition fees for First Nation students vary depending on individual school boards. This has resulted in cases where First Nations have been overcharged for tuition by local school boards.

Finally, it has been claimed that if the 2005 Kelowna Accord had been enforced by the federal government, with an additional $1.05 billion provided for First Nations education, there would now be a better education system on reserves resulting in graduation rates similar to those of other Canadians. The evidence suggests otherwise. The current federal government has provided a cumulative $1.0987 billion in additional funding to on-reserve education over the past eight years—over and above the annual $1.5 billion spent on operational education services. Despite that, graduation rate improvements have not followed. Recently the graduation rate on reserve was below 40 percent—almost half the completion rate of other Canadian students. Simply increasing government funding for education does not result in a better education system or increased graduation rates.

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