The Fraser Institute says it's a myth First Nations schools receive less money than public schools -- but aboriginal educators say it's the Fraser Institute's analysis that's mythical.
The Assembly of First Nations, Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre, and the Quebec-based First Nations Education Council all say reserve schools receive thousands of dollars less from Ottawa than do public schools -- about $3,500 less per child.
"The Fraser Institute report uses an inaccurate approach to identifying the core, sustainable and predictable funding that reaches First Nation schools," said an AFN official. "First Nations schools on reserve receive, on average, $7,856 per student in predictable core funding.
"First Nations have long advocated that we are not looking for comparable funding to the provinces, rather comparable opportunity for First Nations students to access the educational services and standards that all Canadian children have," said the AFN.
The Fraser Institute counts a lot of money that has nothing to do with the classroom, said Lorne Keeper, executive director of the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre.
Manitoba First Nations have 49 schools but only 19 high schools, he said.
About 60 per cent of high school students attend a public high school, for which Ottawa pays tuition -- higher per-student funding than they would have received were they educated on their reserve -- and in many cases, room, board and transportation, Keeper said.
"There's at least 1,700 students who attend a private home placement program in Winnipeg, Brandon or Thompson," he said. "The room and board is all included."
Frontier School Division operates the north's only technical-vocational high school in Cranberry Portage. Students from all over the north live in residence and receive several trips home a year, which boosts the per-student cost well beyond $20,000 a year, much of which should not be counted as classroom costs, Keeper argued.
Manitoba Department of Education officials, pointing to federal reports, said, "There are many disparities between the First Nations and provincial-education systems and numerous gaps regarding student supports, curriculum development, programming, infrastructure, etc. (Ottawa) itself cautions against simply looking at funding levels as an indicator of parity."
Keeper said there is significant lump-sum money Ottawa makes available for possible education use, which poverty-stricken band councils facing high unemployment must instead use for housing, social services, and other needs.
The think-tank also said First Nations schools do not have certified teachers, their high school diplomas are not recognized, and they do not follow recognized curricula.
Most First Nations teachers are faculty of education graduates, Keeper said -- the exceptions are language and culture specialists.