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Federal spending falls short for students on reserves, budget watchdog says
The federal government spends far less per student to run schools on reserves than the provinces spend to educate other Canadian children because Ottawa does not adequately account for the cost of teaching in remote northern regions with small populations.
That is the finding of a report issued Tuesday by the Parliamentary Budget Officer who was asked by New Democrat MP Charlie Angus to examine how much the federal government spends to educate First Nations children.
It was a point of contention throughout the decade that Stephen Harper was in power, when the Conservatives said they were spending more than the provincial average per student to run reserve schools, despite claims to the contrary by indigenous groups including the Assembly of First Nations.
In his new report, the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) found the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs spends about $14,500 per student to educate children on reserves which, unlike other schools in Canada, fall under federal jurisdiction. That compares to the Ontario provincial per-student rate of $11,500.
But, says the PBO, if the federal government applied Ontario's formula for educating children in remote northern regions, where opulations are small and the schools cannot take advantage of the economies of scale, the per-student rate would be between $21,000 and $25,000.
"In addition," says the report, "band schools face higher costs because of higher incidence of socio-economic disadvantage, commitments to provide culturally relevant instruction in indigenous languages, and large numbers of students for whom English or French is a second language. The incidence of children requiring special education support is also higher."