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First Nations and province announce education deal to improve school access for Indigenous students

First Nations and province announce education deal to improve school access for Indigenous students
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The Ontario government and First Nations now have a formal process for students living near a reserve to attend school there or those on reserve to attend a public school in the neighbouring community with an easier transfer and a set amount of funding.

“It is choices for our students, where they want to go to school,” said Grand Council Chief Glen Hare at Tuesday’s announcement, in a video posted on social media by Anishinabek Nation .

“...These doors are being opened up for our students to go to school in our communities” should they choose, or to attend school elsewhere, he said. Schools on reserves are generally overseen by the federal government, but public education is a provincial responsibility. This jurisdictional issue often delayed the start of school for students as arrangements were made to accommodate them and sort out funding, either on reserve or off reserve.

The agreement framework — called the Reciprocal Education Approach, or REA — means students can access schools without delay, and with standard “tuition” in place that will be provided to the school or board.

From Nipissing First Nation in North Bay, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said “Ontario is a proud partner in the master education agreement within this system. Its goal is to support the success and well-being of Anishinabek students, in Anishinabek First Nation schools and in Ontario schools.” The Anishinabek Nation represents 40 First Nations across Ontario.

He said the changes, which are retroactive to Sept. 1, “will support First Nation students and families by providing parents with more options. The (REA) will reduce barriers for First Nation students living on-reserve who wish to attend a provincially funded school.”

And, he added, “it will also support First Nation students who live off-reserve and who wish to attend a First Nation-operated school.”

Lecce said the REA “will eliminate a lot of unnecessary red tape. It ensures that First Nations and school boards in Ontario will no longer be required to negotiate the base tuition fee for students who wish to attend a provincially funded school or a First Nation-operated school.”

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Work on the agreement has been under way for more than two years and began under the previous Liberal government, said Sean Monteith, former director of the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board in the Kenora area, who now heads the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board.

He said the process — formerly dubbed “reverse tuition” — reduces the paperwork and delays for students.

“It removes what might be called the tuition barrier, if you will, that allows Indigenous parents the choice of where to send their kids to school, and not be inhibited as to where they go to school,” he said in an interview.

Monteith also said that special needs students’ services will also be built into the fee transfers.

“It will be the same level of funding that they would receive in the public system,” he added.

He said the new plan could also see non-Indigenous students attend a school on a reserve, depending on the agreement with the local board.
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