By Neil Debassige of LearnFirst Consulting
Special to FNWSC

The First Nations With Schools Collective’s community engagement strategy has embarked on a front-line mission to identify how the current federal funding model imposes constraints on First Nation education systems.  

Educators, community members and political leaders from participating First Nations are identifying the issues that jeopardize educational prosperity in their communities and using this information to inform the development of a new funding formula.  

Each community has a unique set of difficulties that can help inform the bigger picture in terms of education funding for First Nations at large.  The educators, caregivers and stakeholders are contributing to the development of this new funding model by asking the questions from the front line, where answers matter most and where changes in student achievement are felt first.

We have been compiling feedback from communities in the following categories: 

  1. Instruction: Both classroom instruction and land-based education.
  2. Off First Nation Students: Issues faced by learners who attend high school outside of their community. 
  3. Special Education: Additional supports required for students with additional needs. 
  4. Leadership, Governance and Administration: Includes in-school leadership principal, office support and ‘school board’ functions such as finance, HR, IT support, curriculum development and governance. 
  5. School Operations, Maintenance and Renewal: Includes daily operation of the school (cleaning, heating, insurance, etc.) as well as regular maintenance and more substantive renewal and student transportation.

The community feedback is encompassed in the FNWSC proposed funding formula.

Reforming the funding is critical to success of First Nation learners.

The approach to reforming the First Nations’ Education funding model is not a new concept for Indigenous leadership. The need to reform the funding model has never been more necessary for future success of First Nation learners.  

The critical nature of First Nation education based on the current success rate data for First Nation learners is at an all-time high. The 2015-16 cohort (4-year) graduation rate for provincial students in Ontario was 79.6% compared to 47.1% for First Nation students. (Sekaly, 2021)

*See Gabriel Sekaly’s blog for more 

There are some common themes emerging from both sides of the discussion table that are supported by the research of educational gurus like Michael Fullan, the global leadership director for New Pedagogies for Deep Learning. To further support the research Fullan and associates, Dr. Doug Willms, president of the Fredricton-based Learning Bar research institute, has identified several ‘binding constraints’ that he says contribute to societies’ under-achievement in educational outcomes. 

Among the many barriers to success for First Nation learners are systemic racism and inadequate funding, which both impact the education systems in communities.  

Reforming the funding model for First Nation education programming requires that binding constraints be addressed.

*See Gerry Kerr’s blog on closing the Achievement Gap

150 years of inadequate federal funding

Critical to reforming how First Nation funding formulas generate an end result (a per pupil amount) is reforming the relationship between the parties responsible for determining the formula. 

Oftentimes, the intergovernmental relationship between the federal government and the sovereign First Nation governments is fragile due to factors like historical lack of funding and previously fractured negotiations.

In some cases this has caused a further delay in developing a funding strategy that would allow First Nation communities to bridge the learning gap that has resulted from 150 years of inadequate federal funding and education policy.

*Look for Gabriel Haythornwaite’s blog on this topic on this website, Thursday, June 10

All means ALL

In 2010, Fullan published the Big Ideas Behind Whole System Reform that identified some universal points for further discussion: 

1. All children can learn 

2. A small number of key priorities 

3. Resolute leadership 

4. Collective capacity 

5. Strategies with precision 

6. Intelligent accountability 


All means all: This type of thinking is resonating with what Indigenous leaders and educators have been stating for some time – that given the same opportunity, First Nation learners will achieve.

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