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Feds must answer for Indigenous student funding changes

Life is full of unintended consequences, but it is no excuse for failing to take action and fix mistakes once they come to light. Take the situation the Canadian Rockies Public School division currently finds itself in.
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Life is full of unintended consequences, but it is no excuse for failing to take action and fix mistakes once they come to light.

Take the situation the Canadian Rockies Public School division currently finds itself in. Trustees and administration are faced with a sudden and unexpected shortfall in federal funding for Indigenous students at the Exshaw School beginning next year.

The reason? Because the federal government had taken action to change Indigenous education funding for students that attend schools on-reserve. The unintended consequence to this funding formula change would be the effect on students who attend schools in communities adjacent to reserves. 

If the numbers currently being considered by the Feds on a per student basis for First Nations students in Alberta are used, the school will be facing a $1.6 million operational deficit starting in 2020-21. 

Not because the federal government intends to undermine public education in the Bow Valley, or pull the carpet out from underneath a school that provides exceptional support for First Nations students. But because in calculating a per student funding amount, they made some really bad assumptions that are having unintended consequences here in the Bow Valley. 

While the school board is focused on finding the funding to maintain the quality and calibre of education at the Exshaw School, there is a real possibility they may have to close it as a result of these changes.

The changes come from a desire to fund First Nations education in Canada in a way that better supports Indigenous communities and on-reserve education.

The focus has been to fund education on a per student basis in the same way the provincial government does. In Alberta, that’s $11,000 per student that school boards receive from kindergarten to the end of middle school. But that funding amount used by the Federal government fails to acknowledge that it does not provide for operational funding of schools or administrative support. 

Literally instead of apples to apples, we have apples to oranges. The Exshaw School at the moment has 205 students and to offer educational supports and programs for the 99 per cent of the student body that comes from the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, it requires $19,000 per student in funding.

To cut budget at the Exshaw School to $11,000 per student, would be to undermine the quality of education in a way that is unsupportable to the school division at this time. It would mean scaling back many of the programs and educational assistants, literacy supports and other services this school provides. 

Furthermore, to take provincial educational funding from other schools and students in order to maintain the levels of education at the Exshaw School right now, is equally unpalatable.

With all this coming to light in the midst of a federal election, chances are there will be little in terms of answers from Indigenous Services Canada in the short term.

But given the fact this change in funding is having an unintended consequence to off-reserve education for First Nations students and there are more than 200 Stoney Nakoda students that may find themselves without a school to go to next year – answers are needed. 

Last week, the Outlook wrote about two teachers from the Exshaw School nominated for a Governor General’s award for a program they created that connected students to elders and the history of their community. This is a perfect example of what is at risk of being lost – innovative, collaborative, and ground breaking education for First Nations students here in the Bow Valley. 

As a community, we must rally now behind this school and the good work it does every single day. To close a school is not the answer to a funding change.



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