Coalition hopes to create Oceti Sakowin charter schools

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RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — A coalition in South Dakota suggested to the State-Tribal Relations Committee that it pass legislation allowing Native Americans to create charter schools rooted in Oceti Sakowin language, culture and knowledge.

The South Dakota Education Equity Coalition recently presented the idea to the committee at the state Capitol in Pierre with hopes of getting legislative backing to create charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated by a group such as a nonprofit or university.

Sarah Pierce, one of the group leaders, said the schools would be a space where students can be "unapologetically Indian."

"They don't have to check their indigenousness at the door," Pierce said. "We don't want our culture, spirituality, our language to be viewed as an elective."

South Dakota, along with North Dakota, Montana, Nebraska and Vermont, does not have legislation for such schools.

The coalition was formed in August, aimed at making charter schools that strike a balance between offering indigenous culture and academic rigor. But it’s not just culture that Native Americans are looking to create space for in schools. They want better education.

Native American students, who comprise about 11% of the public school student population in South Dakota, perform worse on exams than white students, according to the 2018-19 school report cards.

The data shows that while 61% of white students in South Dakota met or exceeded the English language arts test score goal, only 23% of Native American students did. Native American students also did worse in science, 14% of them passed, compared to 53% of white students.

More generally, 95% of white students graduate from high school and 56% are college and career ready. That’s compared to 66% and 13%, respectively, for Native Americans students.

Pierce, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the former director of Indian Education at Rapid City Area Schools, said some people live on reservations but send their children to city schools because they are more academically rigorous. Others live in cities but send their children to reservation schools to learn their language, the Rapid City Journal reported.

"Our design will hopefully have a great balance that won't lack in rigor or culture," Pierce said.

The 30-member coalition wants to open charter schools, rather than private ones, to ensure sustainable funding, though the schools may also use private money, Pierce said. She added that focusing on creating more options addresses the inequity between traditional public schools and charter schools.

"We're not intending to necessarily discredit the work that's being done within existing districts, only to create an alternative pathway," she said.

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Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com


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