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Government contradicts First Nations ed underfunding claims

A background document attached to a press release issued earlier today by the Canadian government implies per-pupil funding for First Nations education surpasses funding for Canada's public schools.

According to The Canadian Press, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) attached the funding information to a briefing on the partial delivery of the $275 million promised for First Nations education in Budget 2012.

AANDC's funding calculations show a per-pupil funding average of $13,542 nation-wide in the 2010/11 school year. B.C.'s average was slightly higher at $14,139 per student in B.C. The numbers don’t include funding for educational facilities.

The Canadian Press notes national public school funding per pupil averages out to $10,439, while the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) had previously averaged out First Nations school funding at $7,101 per student.

The B.C. Ministry of Education website shows public school students in British Columbia receive an average of $8,493 per pupil in 2012/13.

However AANDC's calculations include 42,726 full-time equivalency (FTE) First Nations students who attend public and private schools in 2010/11, as the federal government funds the education of all First Nations children living on reserves. The majority 67,567 FTE students attended First Nations-run schools on reserves, 1,418 attended federally run reserve schools.

Federal underfunding of First Nations schools has been a frequent complaint from First Nations and Aboriginal education advocates. Last January B.C.'s own First Nations Education Steering Committee was promised an additional $15 million in education funding after signing a historic tripartite education agreement with the federal and the B.C. governments.

At the time FNESC told The Tyee the agreement was slated to bring First Nations education funding "roughly" on par with provincial public schools last month.

The following March the federal government pledged $275 million towards First Nations education funding across Canada as part of the federal budget.

But it isn't enough for Cindy Blackstock, a prominent activist for Aboriginal children's rights and the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, which, along with the AFN, has taken the government to the Canadian Rights Tribunal over allegations the government is systematically underfunding services for Aboriginal children. Originally launched in 2007, the case is still ongoing.

Debbie Jeffrey, FNESC's executive director, responsible for administrating education services and funding for First Nations-run schools in B.C., said she couldn't speak to the numbers because staff haven't had time to review them.

"It would be irresponsible of me to comment on something I haven't verified," she told The Tyee from Ottawa where she is attending the AFN's Special Chiefs Assembly on Education.

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee. You can follow her on Twitter @kehyslop.

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