Cullen welcomes unanimous parliamentary support for increased funding to reserve schools

OTTAWA

Unanimous support in Parliament last night for an NDP motion calling for the federal government to fund reserve schools to the same level that provinces do public schools is welcome and overdue news, MP Nathan Cullen said today.

“Reserve schools are shockingly underfunded and far too many are simply unfit as places of learning and growth,” said Cullen, whose northern riding, one of the largest in Canada, is comprised of approximately 30% First Nations.

“A solid education is essential to a good start in life, to prepare students to enter the workforce, and for economic independence.  It is immoral that so many reserve schools are unable to provide their students with a quality education because of severe and chronic underfunding.”

Monday’s NDP motion calls for the government to declare that First Nations students have an equal right to quality education, and to work with First Nations leaders to ensure students on reserves receive properly funded, culturally sensitive schooling.

The motion is non-binding but Cullen said it will be difficult for the Harper government to backtrack on the support it expressed last night.  Improved education was a key topic at last month’s first-ever summit with the prime minister and First Nations chiefs.  Stephen Harper has also spoken frequently recently about the need to dramatically improve education on reserves.

Cullen said the upcoming federal budget will be the first test of the government’s commitment to increased funding for reserve schools.  He said the Official Opposition will also be watching closely to see this funding does not occur at the expense of others branches of First Nations learning, such as adult education.

Cullen praised the efforts of sixteen-year-old Chelsea Edwards, a Grade 11 student, for Parliament’s unanimous support of improved education on reserves.  Edwards, whose elementary schooling occurred in chilly portables next to contaminated land on her reserve near James Bay, launched the Shannen’s Dream campaign to continue the work of her friend Shannen Koostachin, who died in a car accident in 2010 at the age of 15.

A recent federal-First Nations task force found at least 100 schools are unfit for learning and less than half of reserve students ever graduate from high school.  On-reserve schools are funded at between $2,000 and $3,000 less per student per year than provincial schools.

The Assembly of First Nations estimates Ottawa would need to spend about $500 million a year more to bring reserve schools up to provincial standards.

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