American Indian Council
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
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.
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