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Commentary: Federal funding for Exshaw School students highlights long-standing inequity

All three parties – CRPS, SEA and ISC – are set to meet together this week. Whether they can reach an agreement on behalf of the students is not clear. What is clear is that SEA must negotiate equivalent levels of funding to not only maintain status quo with Exshaw School over the long term but to enhance service delivery as well. Equality for Indigenous children should be the objective.
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Canadian Rockies Public Schools (CRPS) has decided to repurpose Exshaw School.

The decision made by the school board affects almost 200 Stoney Nakoda students who attend this provincial school.

At a town hall meeting held in Morley on Jan. 20, 2020, Superintendent Bill Shade indicated that Stoney Education Authority (SEA) currently does not have the capacity to take in all 200 students.

This is a problem for at least 200 families.

This development is in response to the federal government’s decision to implement a “new” funding strategy.

Under First Nations Control of First Nations Education, First Nations school boards will now administer federal funding.

This will be a relationship between Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) and recognized boards of education.

This means that CRPS must now negotiate with SEA until a board is in place.

According to media reports, CRPS is projecting a $1.6 million shortfall in funding. The division currently receives approximately $19,000 per student in federal funding.  

Although negotiations have yet to take place, it is noteworthy that this amount is significantly more than the funding allocated to First Nations students attending school on reserve.

It highlights an inequity that has long existed.

Former Indian Affairs bureaucrat and education scholar Sheila Carr-Stewart highlighted this binary approach to funding in her work.

In First Nations Educational Governance: A Fracture Mirror, Carr-Stewart and Larry Steeves explained that devolution, under Indian Control of Indian Education, resulted in a transfer of salaries for teachers, educational assistants, and principals, but not second level services.

The Assembly of First Nations defines second level services to include “a) curriculum and teaching, b) school governance and administration and, c) student support services and inclusive programming.”

In this context, Indian Control of Indian Education was a partial transfer of education.

Funding to support school boards (governance), development of curricula and special education was not available.

Under regional and local agreements, ISC now provides basic funds to address student support and special education.

Through First Nations Control of First Nation Education, the Government of Canada will attempt to address this disparity by implementing a new approach that will provide First Nations with funding that is comparable to funding provided to provincial schools.

This is a positive step.

However, ISC is still not committing to equal levels of funding.

At the town hall, Superintendent Shade stated that funding will flow to SEA. He has recently been tasked with forming a school board to oversee this process.

In the interim, Indigenous Services Canada has committed to funding Exshaw School until 2021.

This was evidently not acceptable to CRPS, which will now close the school.

All three parties – CRPS, SEA and ISC – are set to meet together this week.

Whether they can reach an agreement on behalf of the students is not clear. What is clear is that SEA must negotiate equivalent levels of funding to not only maintain status quo with Exshaw School over the long term but to enhance service delivery as well.

Equality for Indigenous children should be the objective.

Tatâga Thkan Wagichi is a member of the Wesley First Nation, Stoney Nakoda Nation. A doctoral student in education at the University of Calgary, his focus is on the history of the Stoney Nakoda people and development of the Iyethka language. Author of the book Nakota Community, he is also a regular columnist for the Cochrane Eagle and Rocky Mountain Outlook.



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