Sen. McCain introduces school choice legislation for Native American children in BIE schools

Bill will allow federal education funding to be used for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts
Today, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) introduced the Native American Education Opportunity Act to provide additional education options for tribal children currently enrolled at Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools. If passed, federal education dollars would for the first time fund education savings accounts (ESA) for children in BIE schools in states where the program is currently in place. These states include Arizona, Florida, Nevada and Mississippi.
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“Students enrolled at BIE schools are trapped in some of the worst performing schools in America, and this program will provide parents with real hope and the opportunity to provide their children with a quality education,” said Betsy DeVos, chairman of the American Federation for Children. “I applaud Sen. John McCain for his leadership and commitment to these students who are in desperate need of school choice.”

Last year, Arizona’s ESA program called the Empowerment Scholarship Account program, was opened up to all tribal families in the state’s 22 reservation communities. Hundreds of families applied in a special three-week enrollment period specifically for Native American students. The children who entered the program are allowed to use 90 percent of their child’s state-allocated education funds to pay for private school tuition, online curriculum, homeschooling or several other education options. However, children currently attending BIE schools, though eligible, cannot participate in the program because federal education funds are not presently part of the ESA program. 

“Giving these students more educational options is the first step in lifting up families in Native American reservation areas and leading them toward a better future,” said Kim Martinez, communications associate for the American Federation for Children. “We have seen firsthand the demand for school choice among Native American families here in Arizona and we applaud Sen. McCain for introducing this innovate and life changing legislation.” 

Arizona Sen. Carlyle Begay, R-LD 7, originally helped bring the state-funded ESA program to tribal families living in reservation communities to help address the crisis in Indian education. In Arizona, Native American children are last in reading and math proficiency and have the highest drop out rate in the state. 

“I’ve received several calls from disappointed Native American parents from all over Arizona who wanted to access ESAs, but could not because their child is attending a BIE school and the federal funding doesn’t transfer into the ESA program,” said Sen. Begay. “This bill makes the education needs of our Native children a top priority by giving all tribal parents the options and resources they are asking for in order to build their education around their child’s specific needs.” 

The Native American Education Opportunity Act is anticipated to be next heard by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

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