Bulk of new education cash contingent on passage of First Nation education bill

The federal government is offering little for education in the 2014-2015 federal budget, but has dangled a $1.9 billion carrot to get First Nations chiefs to support proposed legislation to govern the operation of on-reserve schools.

EDUCATION PRESSER

BUDGET 2014

APTN National News
OTTAWA–The federal government is offering little for education in the 2014-2015 federal budget, but has dangled a $1.9 billion carrot to get First Nations chiefs to support proposed legislation to govern the operation of on-reserve schools.

The budget offered no new details on the education agreement announced Friday, with all the promised money slated to flow in 2015 and 2016. The biggest chunk of new money, $1.25 billion for core education funding over three years, will only begin flowing in 2016 after the next federal election. It is also contingent on the passing of the proposed First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act.

The federal budget, unveiled Tuesday, offers no immediate funding for First Nation education this year.

If the legislation is passed, First Nations will get the money in addition to the roughly $1.5 billion Ottawa already spends yearly on core education funding, according to federal officials speaking on background. The additional money will amount to roughly $417 million per year for three years. In addition, a 4.5 per cent escalator will apply to the total amount after the first year, federal officials said.

The funding will also be enshrined in the legislation, providing “stable and predictable statutory funding.”

Federal officials said existing education program funding from sources like the New Paths for Education, First Nation Student Success Program and Education Partnership Program, will be rolled into an overall core funding stream.

Federal officials said the $1.25 billion has already been set aside in the “fiscal framework,” but it won’t be released until after the legislation passes.

The budget is silent on when the new legislation is expected to surface for tabling.

Despite the two year gap between the announcement and the time the promises would be fully implemented, the Harper government highlighted the item prominently in its budget rollout package.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty also trumpeted the proposed legislation early in his budget speech under a section of the speech describing the Harper government’s plan for jobs and economic growth.

“And that is why the prime minister announced more than $1.9 billion in new funding to implement the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act,” said Flaherty.

As previously announced, Ottawa will also provide $160 million over four years beginning in 2015 in transitional funding to implement the proposed legislation. Part of that money will be used to create First Nations Education Authorities.

The creation of these authorities has created concern among some. The First Nations Education Council, which includes 22 Quebec First Nations as members, called these authorities federal agencies and said the proposed bill would not really give First Nations control over their education.

The federal budget also repeated Friday’s announcement on the $500 million over seven years Ottawa is promising for the building and upkeep of schools beginning next year.

The infrastructure funding is a continuation of the $175 million over three years announced in last year’s budget. The infrastructure dollars still fall far short of estimates that range a little over $2 billion a year to get reserve schools up to acceptable standards, according to a Parliamentary Budget Office report from 2009.

The proposed bill still carries some of the main aims of its previous incarnation, known as the First Nations Education Act which was strenuously opposed by many chiefs, including the creation of minimum education standards consistent with provincial standards and establishing roles for First Nation education administrators while requiring annual reporting on outcomes and performance.

First Nations already agree to meet provincial standards in existing financial contribution agreements with Aboriginal Affairs.

Many of the fine details of the proposed new education bill still need to be worked out through discussions between the Assembly of First Nations and Ottawa.

AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo, however, said Friday that he believes that the agreement that gave birth to the renamed bill signals a turning point in the relationship between First Nations and the Crown.

Ottawa sees it in a similar vein.

“For this young and fast-growing population, this is a game-changer,” said the budget document.

The federal government is also pledging to invest $323 million to improve and construct water and waste-water infrastructure on reserves over the next two years.

Ottawa will also be investing $40 million over five years beginning in 2015 to improve disaster management and mitigation on reserves.

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