WINNIPEG -- The high-school graduation gap between indigenous and non-aboriginal students in Manitoba has worsened despite new government programs and spending, the province's auditor general said Friday.

A 50-page report from Norm Ricard also said that despite years of effort, the government still hasn't identified the barriers aboriginal students face in finishing Grade 12.

About 55 per cent of indigenous students are completing high school compared with 96 per cent of non-aboriginals, the report said. The gap is slightly wider than in 2010, when 57 per cent of aboriginal students were finishing high school.

"Research literature shows that high-school graduation is an essential building block in helping people gain employment, earn a higher income and achieve overall well-being and prosperity," Ricard wrote.

"The implementation planning for the ... goal of improving educational outcomes for K-12 aboriginal students was weak."

The report said while the government has aimed to improve aboriginal education outcomes since 2004, its plan -- including two grants to school divisions targeted specifically at helping aboriginal students -- has been vague and poorly thought out.

Among Ricard's findings:

-- The government did not give school divisions specific directions on their role in improving aboriginal graduation rates.

-- There were no specific short-term targets to measure success and officials often relied on anecdotal information.

-- About $10 million a year in grants is available to school divisions for improving aboriginal education and parental involvement, but there was no specific budget for the overall effort to boost graduation rates.

-- The grants work out to $290 per aboriginal student in the current fiscal year. Similar grants in Alberta and British Columbia are more than $1,100 per aboriginal student.

The report contains 19 recommendations. Most focus on clearly defining the responsibilities of schools divisions and government departments that have a hand in aboriginal education.

The government has to figure out why the graduation gap is widening, Ricard said.

"The (Education) Department needs to more systematically identify the barriers to improving education outcomes faced by many aboriginal students and ensure its plans focus on how best to overcome these barriers."

The government said it accepts all the auditor's suggestions and will respond in part by setting up a group to identify and address any barriers. There is also to be a focus on improving literacy and numeracy skills at younger ages.

"The department will continue to work with school divisions to ... improve transparency and accountability, at the same time as developing realistic and measurable targets," the government wrote in a response.