Monday, September 17, 2012

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan StarPhoenix Report

Delay in funds is inexcusable

The StarPhoenix

The money promised in the federal budget five months ago to address the deplorable shortfall in funding for schools on Canada's First Nations was at best a fraction of what's needed, but it's shocking to learn that even that meagre amount is yet to make it to reserves in Saskatchewan. In a province where young aboriginal people represent a vast, mostly untapped human resource that's vital to securing economic growth and prosperity, the foot-dragging by Ottawa in ensuring that children on reserves are provided an education of a quality that others in the province enjoy is inexcusable. What's worse is that the Conservatives in government who control the purse strings joined opposition MPs in February to support unanimously an NDP motion to put First Nations schools on an equal footing with provincially funded schools. While the government's subsequent budget commitment of $275 million over three years was hardly equal to meeting that lofty goal, it at least promised to spend $100 million on early childhood education programs and provide $175 million to construct or repair reserve schools. Yet, as StarPhoenix reporter Jason Warick reported this week, First Nations schools in Saskatchewan have yet to see any of the money they so badly need to address some immediate infrastructure problems such as leaky roofs, let alone put in place programs to meet the long-term educational needs of students. Frankly, $100 million over three years for early literacy education for Canada's rapidly increasing cohort of native kids is hardly adequate to meet the need. In Saskatchewan, the province provides about $10,000 per student enrolled in its schools while Ottawa funds reserve schools at a rate of $6,400 per student. With an estimated 16,000 students on reserve, that meant the federal funding shortfall in this province alone is more than $54 million a year. That's money that could be used to ensure the reserve schools are staffed by teachers who aren't paid $5,000 a year less than their counterparts in the provincial system and to ensure they don't leave at the first opportunity. That's money that can ensure the classrooms have adequate supplies and the libraries have good, new material. Premier Brad Wall is right to express concern that even the meagre funding commitment hasn't been met so far. His former Education minister Donna Harpauer was right to express concern in April that the promised federal funding still isn't going to operating funding for staff and resources for on-reserve schools. This foolhardily shortchanging of the education of some of the most marginalized citizens ill serves a First World nation whose leaders have been told repeatedly by experts in economics, social sciences and medicine that education is the key to breaking the costly cycle of poverty and poor health. That they still persist in paying lip service to the ideal while doing the bare minimum or even less to address an inequity that's taking such a demonstrable toll in economic and human terms is unconscionable. All Canadians pay a price for it, not only those who are robbed of life opportunities.  The editorials that appear in this space represent the opinion of The StarPhoenix. They are unsigned because they do not necessarily represent the personal views of the writers. The positions taken in the editorials are arrived at through discussion among the members of the newspaper's editorial board, which operates independently from the news departments of the paper.

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