WINNIPEG -- The head of the Southern Chiefs' Organization (SCO) is criticizing the Manitoba government’s new education bill, saying it does not address the systemic issues First Nations students in Manitoba are facing in the classroom.

Speaking with CTV News on Tuesday, SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said Bill 64, which was tabled on Monday, does not help with issues such as poverty, high-racialized suspension rates, low graduation rates for First Nations students, and under-representation in the classroom.

“We knew this conversation was about clawing back funding and collapsing the school board’s trustee boards across the province in an effort, I think, to save some revenue as it relates to public education,” Daniels said.

The proposed legislation would see Manitoba’s school divisions merged into 15 different regions, and locally elected school boards would be eliminated. The decision doesn’t impact the province’s Francophone school division.

Daniels said specific school divisions and neighbourhoods often have specialized needs, and he fears the needs of First Nations students could be overlooked with a province-wide advisory board.

“First Nations people are not benefitting from the current educational system, and a lot of that has to do with systemic barriers, and we need to continue to address that,” he said. “We’ve created our own school system on reserve, and we will continue to advocate with students off-reserve to the fullest extent.”

Daniels said the SCO will work with the appointed boards in the regions to help address Indigenous issues in education.