Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/5/2009 (4784 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Kevin Page's report on the funding requirement for First Nations schools in Canada found between $287 million and $308 million is needed to build and refurbish schools on reserves each year for the next five years.
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada has allocated $118 million this year, $121 million next year and $123 million in 2011-12. That leaves a gap of at $169 million this year alone, says the report.
Added to that, is the fact since 2002/03, INAC has diverted $121 million from money originally allocated for school capital to other programs. The report says that means the gap in what's needed versus what's actually spent is likely far higher than the current numbers show because INAC hasn't spent all the money it's set aside for schools on reserves since at least 2002.
The report also found INAC doesn't have a discernible method for budgeting its capital program nor does it have reliable data on the schools that exist on reserves, including when they were built and what shape they are in.
"The findings of this report should be shocking," said NDP MP Charlie Angus, who asked the budget office to study the issue of government funding for reserve schools.
He said the government clearly needs to develop a transparent and fully researched method for allocating school capital to ensure the right money is being spent and decisions on what schools get the money are made based on need, not politics.
The report notes that although 35 schools were built in an average year during the 1990s, that number fell to just seven in 2007 and one in 2008.
In total, there are 803 schools on First Nations in Canada, including 147 in Manitoba. About half, 49 per cent, are listed in good condition, and 25 are in poor condition. However, 177 have not been inspected, so their status is unknown.
In Manitoba, the status of one in four schools is unknown.
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Ron Evans said this is not the first report that showed unsuitable funding for First Nations education, but he hopes it will be the one the government finally listens to.
"It's really sad to see the conditions our kids are asked to learn in," Evans said.
He said the school at Wuskwi Sipihk First Nation near Swan Lake is "so deplorable" he wouldn't want his own kids to attend school there.
There is mould in the classrooms, the floors are falling apart and some spaces in the building are considered a fire hazard, Evans said.
Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl says Page makes "some good observations," but he said the report was finished before the latest budget, which allocated $200 million in the government's economic stimulus package to build 10 new schools and renovate three more on reserves.
One of those schools will be a new high school at Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Manitoba.
A Strahl spokesman said the Conservatives have spent $624 million on 118 reserve school projects since 2006, including 17 new schools.
The spokesman neglected to explain the discrepancy between those numbers and the numbers in Page's report, saying only the department is reviewing Page's numbers to determine any factual inaccuracies.
The budget office made six main recommendations for the government, including having INAC improve its data collection on funding requirements and develop an asset management system for First Nations schools, make funding for First Nations schools a separate line item in the budget, stop reallocating funds from school capital to other INAC programs and explore alternative funding arrangements such as public-private partnerships for reserve schools.
Strahl said he will look at some of what Page recommended, but said he will not "put a fence" around school capital funding to prevent it from being reallocated elsewhere, because he said that would remove the flexibility needed to ensure projects get done well.
How Manitoba compares
Number of schools on Canadian reserves: 803
Number on Manitoba reserves: 147
Number in Manitoba in good condition: 75
Number in Manitoba in fair condition: 27
Number in Manitoba in poor condition: 1
Number in Manitoba that haven't been inspected: 37
Number in Manitoba that have been closed: 7