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First Nations leaders have won a pivotal battle with Ottawa in the fight to improve schools on reserves. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, laying out reforms to First Nations education, committed the cash to get it done: In 2019, annual increases for education will more than double to 4.5 per cent. The absence of such a deal sparked chiefs across Canada to reject outright the act's first draft last year.

The proposed First Nations in Control of First Nations Education Act largely recreates the aborted draft bill. Teachers will have to be certified; students will be required to attend a set number of days; and curriculum will have to meet or exceed provincial standards.

But now it also will establish a joint council of educators to advise First Nations and Ottawa on the implementation and oversight of the act. This appears to address criticism by chiefs that the original draft, in creating a national superintendent to oversee compliance of band education authorities, simply maintained federal control of education on reserve.

The deal shows the federal government concedes First Nations education has been shortchanged. Mr. Harper committed to $1.9 billion in spending in the next few years, with cash for infrastructure. The commitment to annual hikes of 4.5 per cent is recognition that federal funding did not keep pace with a rising enrolment or the extraordinary challenges bands and teachers face to improve the learning of First Nations students.

The appalling graduation rates for First Nations youth have been Canada's shame. The Assembly of First Nations sees that the act, and the cash promises, can help change that. Manitoba's chiefs should work to make this act their own, to put First Nations students on stronger footing.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 10, 2014 A8

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