Six Native American tribes in Arizona and North Dakota will each receive $200,000 in federal Sovereignty in Indian Education enhancement funds to establish and manage their own school systems.
The funds were awarded in response to a report released earlier this year by the Bureau of Indian Education Study Group, which highlighted the many challenges facing Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools and provided recommendation to improve those schools. One of those suggestions was to move away from a federal “command and control culture” and provide tribes with the autonomy to offer classes relevant to their history and culture. The six tribes that were chosen to receive funding will conduct research and develop plans related to school finance, academics, governance, and human resources.
“Increasing tribal control over BIE-funded schools not only promotes tribal self-determination, but also provides greater tribal discretion in determining what American Indian children should learn, increasing accountability throughout the school system,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in a statement. “With school management authority, these communities will have more power to create lessons with tribal cultural values and Native languages, both of which can ensure their children stay connected to their heritage and help them to succeed in the future.”
Nationwide, the BIE serves nearly 50,000 children in 183 schools in 23 states. Many of those schools are among the lowest-performing schools in the nation. According to the study group’s report, in 2011, 4th grade students in BIE schools performed lower on the National Assessment of Educational Progress than American Indian students in non-BIE schools. During the 2011-12 school year, the four-year graduation rate at BIE schools was only 53 percent, compared to the national average of 80 percent. As Education Week reported last year, Native American youth often face high poverty rates and live in communities with high rates of alcoholism and suicide.
Representatives from the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights are in the midst of a tour of Native American communities in seven states to learn more about school climate issues that affect American Indian and Alaska Native students.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.