Communiqué from National Chief of AFN on First Nations Control of First Nations Education announcement

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Behind the numbers - Harper's new funding of the First Nations Education Act

Judith Rae

February 14, 2014

Last Friday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced new funding for First Nations education. He also announced changes to the proposed First Nations Education Act, which would be re-named the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act (a few bullet points on these amendments were made available). Since a new draft bill has not been released yet, this blog focuses only on the financial side. You can check out my earlier blog for a memo on the draft Act released in October.

The press conference focused on a big number: $1.9 billion in education funding. But what do the new numbers really mean?  This post looks at each part of the funding announcement and goes behind the numbers.

The new funding will surely be an improvement. But is it enough? As it turns out, there's less money here than it seems. The new education legislation will require First Nations to take on massive new responsibilities, but the resources to meet those responsibilities are insufficient. The new funding will not close the gap between education for First Nations kids and for other Canadian children. It also looks likely to put First Nations kids increasingly farther behind over time. Wholesale changes to the funding approach itself and adequate funding levels are clearly necessary to address the huge gaps in education infrastructure and services for First Nations children. Unfortunately, the announced funding does not seem to go nearly far enough.

(1) School Infrastructure: "$500M over seven years, beginning in 2015-16"

Spreading out a number over many years is a great way to make it sound big. Let's start with basic division: $500 million over 7 years is about $71.4 million a year.

Currently, Canada says that its education infrastructure spending is about $200 million per year. This includes capital construction, as well as operation and maintenance for school buildings. I'll assume that $71.4 million would add on to that amount, making the total $271.4 million per year, starting next year.

How much is needed? A few years ago, the Parliamentary Budget Office ran some models using fiscally conservative assumptions. They found that First Nations' existing schools needed $287-308 million per year in capital construction spending, plus another $110 million for operations and maintenance - i.e. about $410 million a year as of 2009-10.

That does not include the need for new schools, because the PBO did not have enough information to assess that issue. Many First Nations lack schools. Some kids are bused out, and for many remote communities children have to leave home and live far away in order to get a basic K-12 education.

By 2015-16 (six years after the PBO estimate), Canada is saying there will be something like $271.4 million a year for schools. This is a long way off from $410 million, plus inflation since the PBO estimate, plus catch-up costs (from deterioration since the PBO estimate), plus room for new schools. So it looks like while things will improve a bit, we're still far from where we need to be.

(2) Growth: The 2% cap on annual increases is replaced by a 4.5% "escalator"

One might think that keeping pace with population growth and inflation would be covered without question. But it's not. In First Nations education funding, these increases will have been capped at 2% for 20 years. In practice, experts say this means that in real terms First Nations education funding has actually beendeclining by 3-4% per year since 1996.

Statistics Canada tells us that First Nations populations are young and growing fast. Add inflation, and an AFN report found that at least 6.3% per year is required to keep pace with these unavoidable realities.

Canada's recent announcement said that the 2% cap would be replaced by a new 4.5% "escalator" starting in 2016-17. But if 4.5% operates as a new cap, it could still be some distance behind the real life growth of 6.3% (or more). That means funding levels would continue to fall farther and farther behind over time.

(3) Core Funding K-12: "1.25B over three years, beginning in 2016-17″

This $1.25 billion for core funding was the biggest figure in the announcement. $1.25 billion over 3 years is about $416.7 million per year. The federal government says that funding for First Nations education is now about $1.55 billion a year. Let's assume this $416.7 million is new funding. If so, it would get added to the existing amount - but not for another two years, i.e. after the next federal election.

Currently, First Nations education is a long way off from comparable provincial service levels, let alone where it needs to be to close the still-widening gap in high school graduation rates (which the Auditor General said will take over 28 years to close as of 2011).

Many people have detailed dozens of serious service gaps experienced by First Nations students as compared with other Canadian school children. Canada's own National Panel on First Nations Education "saw evidence of significant gaps in compensation of teachers and principals, a lack of equipment and supplies in libraries, shops, gymnasiums and technology, inadequate supports for special needs students, school facilities in disrepair or in portable units, and many other indications of gaps in funding" (p. 39). Pages 16-17 of their report provide more details on "some of the more startling gaps" they saw.

Even Canada's own performance evaluation of First Nations' education recognizes that First Nations kids are getting left far behind. In classic bureaucrat-speak, they put it this way: "The intended outcome of education opportunities and results that are comparable to the Canadian population is not being achieved." (p. 2)

What's the price tag to bring the system up to par? Unfortunately, I have not seen a public document that puts an exact number on that gap nation-wide. The National Panel said quantifying the "magnitude of underfunding" was beyond their mandate.

Reaching that number is more complicated than simply comparing average spending per student in a province to average federal funding per student. Many reports have shown that federal spending for on-reserve schools is significantly lower than provincial spending on public schools, dollar for dollar (here's one,twothree such reports if you're interested). Comparisons can get tricky: for instance, journalists have accused Aboriginal Affairs of inflating its published averages by including provincial schools, which are often paid more to educate a First Nations' child than would be available if the child attended a school on reserve. Comparisons will also be weak if they fail to take into account that a First Nations student in a remote community is not your "average" provincial student, as this paper from Queens' University discusses. Bring in the key factors - things like language programs, small schools, remote areas, socio-economic factors, and special needs - and the funding gap widens farther and farther (check out pages 44-46 of this reportfor some vivid examples).

One gap that should be beyond question is the need to keep pace with increases in inflation and student population. As mentioned, however, First Nations' core education funding has been capped at 2% per year for two decades, while the First Nations' population grew 29%. A previous report from the Assembly of First Nations said that the annual shortfall from that gap alone was $747 million per year as of 2010-11(and it would be more by now, four years later).  Cumulatively, they put the annual growth gap at over $3 billion by 2010-11.

So, just looking at that one factor alone - and there are many others - another $400 million a year as of 2016-17 looks like an improvement, but a very long way off from equitable funding. It would not even cover past population growth.

How could we identify and close the full, much bigger, gap? What the National Panel recommended was that Canada not just increase funding, but develop an entirely new formula that is attuned to the actual needs of First Nations students and communities. Friday's announcement did not appear to signal such wholesale changes to the funding approach itself.

(4) Implementation Funding: "$160M over four years, beginning in 2015-16"

The new education legislation will require First Nations to take on massive new responsibilities. In most cases, these responsibilities were not taken on by anyone before. First Nations will be required to fulfil many requirements that a school board or Ministry of Education would fulfil in a provincial system, prepare new plans and reports, and meet many new standards.

While there are issues with the Act (and the latest draft is not available yet), there is no question that broadly speaking these sorts of responsibilities are essential. Many have commented on the utter lack of any real "system" in most First Nations education.  Sending schools off to operate on their own is like sending troops off to battle without any support from headquarters. Coordination, training, monitoring, specialized services - these "back end" supports are key to success.Someone needs to take on those responsibilities.

Surely, that someone should be First Nations themselves, who have been seeking control of their own education since at least the 1970s. But passing off responsibility without adequate resources is a set up for failure. Is the implementation funding going to be enough?

Implementation funding of $160 million over 4 years is $40 million a year. That comes to about $63,000 for each First Nation. Suddenly, it doesn't sound so impressive. So while setting responsibilities is one thing, actually meeting them will be another.


Some say numbers don't lie. But without context, they can certainly give the wrong impression.

More funding is good, but it needs to be put into perspective. All of us need to be asking hard questions, and none of us should be satisfied until the kids are getting not just a bit more, but what they truly need and deserve. Probably First Nations studentShannen Koostachin put that best:  First Nations kids have the right to safe and comfy schools where they receive a quality education that makes them proud of who are they are and prepares them to achieve their dreams.




Communiqué from National Chief Shawn Atleo

February 2014


The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is pleased to offer this update regarding recent discussions, strategy sessions, meetings and developments and the continued priorities of First Nations in achieving change for our peoples, communities and nations.

First Nations Control of First Nations Education: A New Way Forward

On February 7, 2014, l had the honour to be at Kainai High School in Treaty No. 7 territory to participate in the announcement of a new approach to First Nations control of First Nations education and significant new investments to support First Nations education.

The key points are:
• A new approach is now in place to support First Nations control of First Nations education based on our rights, Treaties and jurisdiction (consistent with AFN resolution 21/2013).
• This new approach will not negatively impact any existing agreements or approaches but rather will specifically support and enable First Nation regional and Treaty approaches.
• There are significant new investments to support this work that will add billions of dollars to education funding.
• These resources are secure and not subject to clawbacks or election results.

The announcement and ceremony was attended by First Nations leaders, Regional Chiefs and Grand Chiefs, Elders, students, children and citizens. The Prime Minister and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs were in attendance representing the federal government. I want to thank Grand Chief Charles Weaselhead for welcoming us into the territory of the Blood Nation for this important work focussed on our kids and on our future.

In the days since the announcement there have been a number of questions about details and next steps. I am sending this Bulletin to provide more information on this major announcement and the new way forward.

The Announcement

The announcement is the culmination of more than forty years of advocacy for First Nations control of First Nations education and fair and equitable funding for our children, an approach articulated in Indian Control of Indian Education in 1972 and reaffirmed as First Nations Control of First Nations Education in 2010.

The federal government's proposed First Nations Education Act is dead. The new approach places our children front and centre and is founded on our rights, Treaties and jurisdiction.

The new approach meets all the principles in AFN resolution 21/2013, "Outlining the Path Forward: Conditions for the Success of First Nations Education", adopted by consensus at the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly in December 2013 (see attached document "A Clear Path Forward on First Nations Education"). Consistent with the resolution, the new approach:

• respects and recognizes First Nations rights, title, Treaties and jurisdiction;
• provides for a statutory guarantee of funding, including a predictable annual growth rate to ensure funding keeps pace with costs of delivering quality education;
• includes support for First Nations languages and cultures;
• calls for the development of mechanisms for reciprocal accountability with no unilateral federal oversight or authority;
• and provides for ongoing meaningful dialogue and development of options by First Nations and Canada for an enabling framework that will ensure the success of First Nations students and schools.

The clear direction in resolution 21/2013 provided the AFN with a mandate to advocate for this new approach. These key principles are not and can never be negotiable.

The only thing that has been agreed to is the resolution and its conditions. Now together we must build the new way forward and confirm the federal obligations and support for First Nation control of First Nation education. This work is not driven by the AFN - it must be driven by First Nations.

For the same reason, there is no new legislation. Any legislation must be driven by First Nations and must enable the full range of approaches that First Nations want to pursue.

For those who question the purpose of new legislation, we must recognize that there already is legislation governing First Nations education: it is the same provisions in the Indian Act that allow the government to set up the residential schools system. Those sections of the Indian Act will be repealed as stated at the announcement. We must develop new legislation that enables and supports full First Nations control and provides a statutory guarantee of funding.

This is our opportunity to fully realize what First Nations control of First Nations education means to us, to get the Minister and government out of our schools and to support success for our children and students - our way.

We recognize and celebrate that some First Nations have already implemented their vision of First Nations education. Some are embarking on new approaches. This new approach will not impact any existing agreements or approaches. On the contrary, it will enable and support approaches driven by First Nations and regions across the country.

The work begins now - First Nations must articulate their vision of First Nations control of First Nations education. The AFN will support and help facilitate this work but it must be driven by First Nations. We know that we have the expertise and the approaches that work to ensure success for our children and students.

I recognize there are many questions and details that remain. We are in a new space, a new moment in time to make real what First Nations control of First Nations education means to us. First Nations must drive this work and next steps.

The AFN's role now is to help to continue to facilitate this dialogue. Ultimately it will be up to every region, every Treaty area and every First Nation to determine their path forward. The AFN will support this work, and there is investment to support this transition.

Together with the leadership of our education portfolio holder, Regional Chief Morley Googoo and our supporting committees, we plan to host roundtable discussions that can gather direction that helps elaborate on the key principles and supports every First Nation moving forward. There will be information coming forward on this work in the very near future.

Funding: Investments in First Nations Education

Investments to support this new way forward were announced at Kainai High School on February 7 and locked into Canada's fiscal framework in the federal budget tabled on February 11, 2014. The investments are significant and, in fact, represent the largest dollar amounts in the federal budget.

The 2014 federal budget confirms:
• new core funding of $1.25 billion from 2016-17 to 2018-19 in support of First Nations education with an annual growth rate of 4.5 per cent;
• includes an Enhanced Education Fund that will provide funding of $160 million over four years starting in 2015-16;
• and $500 million over seven years beginning in 2015-16 for a new First Nations Education Infrastructure Fund.

Based on an initial analysis of the funding projections, First Nations will see more than $2 billion in education support by 2021/22. Please see the chart "Summary of New Investments in First Nations Education" on the AFN website for more detail.

For greater clarity, I want to emphasize the following points.

First, the funding announced in the federal budget is new money. This is not funding that has been "re-profiled" or re-announced in previous budgets.

Second, the 4.5% annual growth rate means we have eliminated the 2% cap on education funding that has held back our youth and students for too long. This annual growth will be enshrined in statute which means it is guaranteed.

Third, this new funding is not subject to the outcome of the 2015 federal election. Regardless of which party wins in 2015, these investments will have been passed by Parliament, locked-in and on the books. On this point, it is worth noting that all parties in the House of Commons have stated their support for this new approach and the new investments.

This is only the start of our work. This work may not always be easy but it is important work and essential work to strengthen our citizens and rebuild our nations. Together we will transform the education system to meet the needs of our children, students, and communities supported by secure, stable and sustainable investments.

There is more information on the AFN website and we will be providing more information in the coming days, weeks and months.

Federal Budget 2014: Other Announcements

The Federal Budget 2014 was tabled on February 11, 2014. As with all federal budgets, the AFN participated in the pre-budget process and advocated strongly for investments in key areas and priorities.

We have already looked at the significant new investments in education. In addition, the federal budget includes resources for broadband connectivity in rural and northern communities, disaster mitigation in First Nations communities, continued funding for the First Nations Water and Wastewater Action Plan, First Nations Commercial Fisheries Initiatives, a two year renewal of the Aboriginal Justice Strategy and resources aimed at ending violence against Indigenous women and girls.

These budget amounts are a start but we need more concerted efforts and action based on First Nations direction. Investments upfront reduce costs in the short- and long-term. And we continue to push for action beyond the budget. We stand firm in our call for specific action to end violence against First Nations women and girls, to deal with the tragedy of missing and murdered women and girls and for a national public commission of inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

I encourage you to visit our website for full details on the budget announcements that affect our people and our communities. I invite you to contact my office if you have questions or suggestions.

Now is our time to stand together to press for progress, action and change that builds stronger First Nations citizens, government and nations. Your involvement and direction is not only critical, it is absolutely essential.

Kleco, Kleco!