Manataka American Indian Council

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Education Bill Passes with Tribal Provisions

In early December, the Senate and House passed S. 1177, The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a federal education package that will take the place of the 2001 No Child Left Behind education law. The act was signed into law by President Obama in early December.

The bipartisan bill contains key provisions that will help Native students have more support in local and state public school districts, be better prepared for higher education, and train Native teachers and teachers of Native students at large. It also seeks to address issues outside of the classroom that disproportionately affect Native students’ educational progress.

The bill allows education funds to be used for violence, abuse, and suicide prevention curriculum and activities, family literacy programs, and cultural activities such as the promotion and revitalization of Native American languages. A provision led by Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) requires the secretary of Education work with Health and Human Services and Interior to address youth suicide in Indian Country, and report on those efforts – including using Project School Emergency Response to Violence (Project SERV) funds for preventative efforts.

As a whole, the bill hands a lot of deciding power to local and state education agencies, but it also requires those agencies to consult with tribal counterparts on policies impacting Native students. It includes funds for the creation and expansion of Native language programs in public schools and strengthening programs to improve the academic achievement of Native students. It includes clarifying language which expands Tribal schools’ eligibility for arts programs, gifted programs, and school leadership recruitment.

The ESSA also updates the “Impact Aid” program, which provides school districts on federal land -- mostly military bases and Indian reservations -- further funding since many residents are excused from local property taxes. It addresses conditions of Native schools unmistakably, including a note: “It is further the policy of the United States to ensure that Indian children do not attend school in buildings that are dilapidated or deteriorating, which may negatively affect the academic success of such children.”

Overall, the ESSA takes very real steps toward setting Native students up to achieve academically by looking holistically at the experiences of Native youth, including tribes in the decision making process, and ensuring funding for programs, facilities, and activities. The bipartisan partnership on this bill bodes well for further work on providing Native students the opportunities and resources they need to succeed.