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DeVos Continues School Choice Push With New Grants for Native American Students

By Andrew Ujifusa — July 21, 2020 2 min read
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U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced a new grant competition designed “to promote tribally-directed education choice for Native American students.”

DeVos unveiled the $15 million “Accessing Choices in Education” (ACE) grants on July 17, and she linked the new competition to the idea that the coronavirus pandemic “has made very clear that education needs to be more adaptable and student-centered.”

The ACE grants, which were included in the July 17 edition of the Federal Register, represent another avenue that DeVos has used to pursue K-12 choice policies, including during the pandemic. On Tuesday, she visited South Carolina to praise GOP Gov. Henry McMaster’s decision to direct a portion of federal coronavirus relief to back scholarships to private schools. Two other governors have directed COVID-19 relief in similar fashion.

DeVos has also lobbied for families to get a portion of federal K-12 aid if their local schools don’t resume in-person classes in the upcoming school year, in order for them to educate their children elsewhere. (There’s no clear authority for the Trump administration to do this, however, although some form of support for private school choice might be included in a new virus aid bill.)

The new ACE grants are open to Native American tribes or grantees that partner with a tribe. Proposals must show how parents and students will be able to directly select services, which can include tuition for private schools, advanced or remedial classes, Native language, history, or cultural courses, dual-enrollment programs, and more.

“First, it respects tribal sovereignty by empowering tribes to select the range of resources to offer students including things like tutoring, educational or technology supplies, and Native language, history, or culture courses,” DeVos said in a statement about the ACES grants. “In turn, parents and students are then empowered to select the resources that are the right fit for them.”

Expanded choice for Native American students were a priority of the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Here’s what we wrote when McCain died in 2018:

McCain’s backing for choice extended to children attending Bureau of Indian Education schools, which he said represented a broken promise to Native American children.

He worked with Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., on legislation that would create education savings accounts for parents to pay for tutoring and other education services for children at those schools.

“We have no greater responsibility to our next generation than to help them prepare to compete in an increasingly competitive workforce, and this bill would provide Native American students the best opportunity to succeed in the classroom and beyond,” McCain said in a statement last year when he re-introduced the Native American Education Opportunity Act last year.

Native American education has been the focus of criticism in Washington for years. For example, as our colleague Corey Mitchell wrote last month, a Government Accountability Office report found that “the Bureau of Indian Education did not provide or could not account for almost 40 percent of the special education service time it’s required to provide for Native American students with disabilities.”

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