Education Agreements

Education Agreements (EAs), previously known as tuition agreements or ESA/RESA (Education Service Agreements/Reverse Education Service Agreements), are a legally binding agreement between a First Nation and school board that detail the provision of services, supports, and programs to First Nations students attending school at a public school board, or a student of a school board attending a First Nations school. Education Agreements are an essential tool in the advocacy of First Nations student equity and cultural safety, and can be used to ensure First Nations have access to student data; ensure education service standards; require school boards to provide First Nations language and culture courses; and other terms aimed at achieving high-quality education programs, services and supports.

The Chiefs of Ontario have designed an Education Agreement resource bundle to assist First Nations in establishing Education Agreements with school boards. Included in the resource bundle is an engaging illustrated sketch animation video, titled “Introduction to Education Agreements,” an Education Agreement Overview document, and an Education Agreement Template. The Education Agreement resources provide a foundational and comprehensive understanding of Education Agreements.  The template contains a wealth of information to begin negotiations with a school board. If you have any questions or need support, please contact Patrik Lowen at or Karleigh Palmer at

First Nations and provincial school boards (“Boards”) can make education agreements that address (a) students living on-reserve that attend a Board school off-reserve and (b) students living off-reserve that attend a First Nation school. These were previously called tuition agreements or Education Service Agreements (ESA) and “reverse” tuition agreements or reverse education agreements (RESA). An education agreement can combine what was previously known as an ESA and a RESA. An education agreement is negotiated between the First Nation and the local school board. This document provides an overview of the kinds of terms that can be included in educational agreements and is meant to accompany the draft education agreement template.

In 2019, Ontario amended the Education Act and its regulations. These amendments do not eliminate the need for education agreements. Education agreements remain very beneficial.
According to the amendments to the Education Act, a provincial Board must admit First Nation students into the Board’s schools as long as the correct enrollment paperwork is completed. They also must flow money to a First Nation for students living off-reserve that attend the First Nation’s school (assuming the correct paperwork is completed). In addition, the Board must provide equitable education services to the First Nation students it admits.
In the past, a Board could withhold these things. For example, in the past, Boards could refuse to admit First Nations students living on reserve that required costly special education supports. That is no longer allowed. Now the Board must admit a First Nation student as long as the right paperwork is completed.
In addition, in the past, Boards could refuse to enter into “reverse” education agreements with First Nations. When that happened, First Nations could not access funding to accept First Nations students living off-reserve into a First Nation school. Since 2019, Boards must flow funding to a First Nation in this context. Boards have the above obligations whether or not there is an education agreement in place. However, there are many other important reasons to have an education agreement, as outlined below and in the attached template agreement.

This new approach is often called the Reciprocal Education Approach. That is because the base fees are roughly equivalent under this system if a student is attending off-reserve while living on-reserve or vice versa. This new approach resolves some previous problems. However, it still leaves First Nation schools underfunded when they accept students living off-reserve because the base fees do not reflect the higher needs and higher costs faced by on-reserve schools.

The purposes of education agreements include:

  • Formalizing relationships and agreements between a First Nation and the Board;
  • Requiring the Board to meet certain educational service standards;
  • Requiring the Board to provide Indigenous languages and cultural courses;
  • Requiring the Board to allow the First Nation to fully participate in hiring staff relating to First Nation student success, achievement, and well-being;
  • Requiring the Board to provide data to a First Nation regarding its students;
  • Allowing funding to flow for additional special education services and equipment;
  • Requiring detailed reporting to the First Nation;
  • Creating mechanisms for First Nations to actively support their children (e.g. through First Nation staff housed in the provincial school);
  • Providing an opportunity for First Nations and Boards to discuss, collaborate, and build relationships; and
  • Other terms aimed at achieving high-quality and equitable education services.

Education agreements can apply to First Nations students (a) living on-reserve and attending a Board school off-reserve and (b) students living off-reserve but attending a First Nation school. In both cases, the fees that a provincial Board can accept or pay for core educational services are set by the Education Act. The base fees roughly equal the funding provided to that Board on a per-student basis by the province.

Special education fees
Additional special education fees can be negotiated. However, those fees are capped and subject to stringent eligibility criteria. For example, additional special education fees for support staff can only be charged where a student requires two or more full time support persons (or equivalent). A Board seeking additional special education fees must explain how those fees would be eligible under provincial criteria for special education staff and equipment.1
An education agreement is required for these additional special education fees to be owed. First Nations may want to include these fees in an agreement to help them secure other commitments in the education agreement and to ensure that their students receive the support they need.

Paying for “extras”
First Nations cannot be asked by Boards to pay more than the fees set out in the Education Act for core educational services. However, First Nations may pay for extra services that go above and beyond what would be provided to a resident pupil of the Board. This can be set out in an education agreement.

Insufficient funding for First Nations
The funding provided to First Nations to enroll students living off-reserve is insufficient. The funding amounts are set by Ontario’s Education Act and are based on the costs applicable to provincial schools, not First Nation schools. However, costs are almost always higher for First Nations schools because they are generally smaller, more remote, face dis-economies of scale, face greater needs, do not receive services from the Ministry of Education, need to provide Indigenous language and cultural instruction, and for other reasons. The Ontario Ministry of Education needs to make changes to resolve this.

Education agreements can include terms that increase the accountability of Board’s and allow First Nations to support their own students in provincial schools. For example, an agreement can

  • Set specific standards that Boards agree to meet;
  • Include specific items for Indigenous curriculum, staffing, training, programming, reporting, and data sharing;
  • Allow a First Nation to hire its own support staff to be located in a provincial school (e.g. elders, counsellors, etc.);
  • Require reporting to assist the First Nation in determining whether its students are receiving adequate services;
  • Require First Nation involvement in Board staffing and planning processes; and
  • Many other terms centred on improving student success.

This overview does not contain a full list of the items that can be addressed in an education agreement. For more examples, see the template agreement that accompanies this memo.

An education agreement template has been prepared to assist First Nations in developing their first agreement under the new reciprocal education agreement approach. This template is a starting point and will require adaptations to address each First Nation’s situation. It will also require negotiation with the school board.

See the template for more details on what an education agreement can include

Education Agreement Draft Template