APTN National News
The Liberal government’s first federal budget fell short of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s high-profile $2.6 billion campaign promise on education for First Nation students.
While the Liberals kept the $2.6 billion figure in the 2016-2017 federal budget unveiled Tuesday, a close look at the number reveals about a third of the money for core First Nation K to 12 education won’t appear unless the Trudeau government achieves re-election in the autumn of 2019.
The federal budget spreads out the $2.6 billion for First Nation education over five years, with over half of the total, $1.4 billion, back-ended in the last two years—$647 million in 2019-2020 and $801 million in 2020-2021.
During the last election campaign, the Liberals promised to invest $2.6 billion into First Nation education over four years. The promise was based on the assumption the Conservatives left $1.7 billion on the books for education, but now the Liberals claim that money is no longer there.
It appears the Liberals, however, are following the mantra of the previous Conservative government that money would follow reform.
The budget states that the Liberal government will be launching a consultation process to overhaul the on-reserve education system with dollar amounts scheduled to grow as that process unfolds.
But according to a spokesperson in the minister’s office, the government will look to work in partnership and consult to close the gaps in education outcomes and that the money is not contingent on this process.
Of the total earmarked for First Nation education, the federal budget is spreading $824 million over the next five years for “implementing transformation.” This year’s investment totals $46 million, but that is set to grow to $234 million in the 2019-2020 fiscal year and $319 million in 2020-2021.
“In order to achieve meaningful gains in education outcomes for First Nations, Budget 2016 proposes significant funding to support the transformation of the current on-reserve education system through a respectful process of consultation and partnership with First Nations,” said the budget document.
Overall, the federal budget commits $8.4 billion in new investments for Indigenous peoples and communities. About $3.3 billion of the promised overall total is earmarked to flow in the last two years of the five-year cycle—$1.6 billion in 2019-2020 and $1.78 billion in 2020-2021.
The federal budget earmarked $4.2 billion specifically for education, children and training. Of that total, about $969.4 million over five years is set aside for building new schools and renovating existing facilities with about $391 million scheduled to flow in the last two years of the five-year cycle—$183 million in 2019-2020 and $208 million in 2020-2021.
Only $96 million of infrastructure money set aside for on-reserve schools is set to flow this year. Money for schools, however, is slated to jump to $282 million next year, before sliding slightly to $197 million in 2018-2019 for a total of $758 million over the next four years.
Federal officials said some funds from the previous Conservative government are still available for schools, but are not outlined in the current budget document.
The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) in its pre-budget submissions requested $500 million in new funding for school construction.
The federal budget failed to meet the AFN’s overall request for First Nation education.
The budget earmarked $1.8 billion for core K-12 on-reserve education over the next four years. The AFN’s total ask on K-12 education, including a five per cent escalator, totalled about $2.2 billion over four years.
The AFN also asked for an immediate $464 million in new investment for K-12 education, but the federal budget only earmarked $287.5 million this year, which rises to $382 million next year, then to $482 million in 2018-2019 and $647 million in 2019-2020.
The federal budget is earmarking $1.2 billion in new money specifically directed at the existing on-reserve education system over the next four years, which rises to $1.7 billion if the post-election 2020-2021 fiscal year is included in the total. This includes $577 million, or $115 million a year over the next five years, for special needs education, $275 million, or $55 million a year, for language and cultural teaching, and $100 million, or $20 million a year over five years, for literacy and numeracy.
The bulk of the remaining funds, about $824 million, will be directed toward a “transformation” of the on-reserve education system, according to the budget document. The Liberals will gradually ramp up funding of this transformation process year over year, beginning with $46 million this year, $91 million next year, $132 million in 2018-2019, $243 million in 2019-2020 and topping up at $319 million in 2020-2021.
An education initiative launched Liberal prime minister Paul Martin will also receive $30 million over the next five years.
The budget document said Martin’s education initiative “has a proven track record of significantly raising the literacy rate of first Nations children on reserve.