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New funding partnership for First Nations schools 'significant': FNESC

First Nations schools got a boost today from the signing of a tripartite agreement with the B.C. provincial and federal governments, guaranteeing an increase of $15 million annually in funding.

The Tripartite Education Framework Agreement will boost education funding at First Nations schools, typically 25 per cent below that of provincial public school funding, to being on par with public schools of similar size.

"It means we'll be able to be roughly comparable in terms of funding (with public schools), and secure and stable," Debbie Jeffrey, executive director of First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC), told The Tyee from Ottawa where she co-signed the agreement with John Duncan, minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, this morning.

Some of those funds will also be used to provide funding for the second level services FNESC provides, Jeffrey adds, allowing them to tailor the services specifically to First Nations needs.

"I am pleased that working in partnership with First Nations and the province of British Columbia, First Nation students will have the necessary tools to succeed," Duncan said in press release issued by FNESC. "Together we will continue to put students first so they become confident, educated and skilled individuals who will create a strong economic future for First Nations communities and Canada."

The $15 million in funding, originally announced in December 2010, is not new, but part of the agreement includes a promise to formulate negotiations on technology funding for on-reserve schools. Because of agreements to keep First Nations funding roughly on par with the public system, an increase in public school technology budgets for 21st Century learning initiatives, for example, will mean an increasing in First Nations technology funding from the federal government.

Both FNESC and the ministry emphasize that this is a B.C.-only initiative, as B.C. is the only province whose First Nations schools work in cooperation under a body like FNESC. That provides some perks, says Jeffrey, like promises from the federal government not to impose across the board legislation on reserve schools in the province.

"There's a big piece on the part of the federal government to consult with us on a number of issues in terms of changes to education policy guidelines and legislation, and also they've committed to develop B.C. specific education policy and guidelines required to implement the agreement," she says.

"That's huge for us, we've never been able to have a formal commitment like that from Canada, so we're hugely pleased with that one."

Katie Hyslop reports for The Tyee.

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