U.S. Senate hears testimony in support of education savings accounts for Native American students

LEGISLATION WOULD ALLOW CHILDREN IN BIE SCHOOLS TO ACCESS EDUCATIONAL CHOICE

WASHINGTON D.C. (April 6, 2016) – Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs heard testimony on the Native American Education Opportunity Act (S. 2711), which expands education savings accounts (ESAs) to students attending schools funded by the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE). Sen. John McCain first introduced the bill in March to help bring school choice options to families on tribal lands in states that have existing ESA programs in place, including Arizona, Nevada, Florida and Mississippi.

“The Native American Education Opportunity Act will serve as a life line to students trapped in literally some of the worst schools in America – it is morally unacceptable to standby and defend the status quo,” said Betsy DeVos, chairman of the American Federation for Children. “Only 53 percent of students attending BIE schools graduate high school – far below the national average of 81 percent. Just as concerning, a report that came out this week cited numerous safety concerns at BIE schools. Simply put, these schools are unsafe and academically unfit for our Native American children.”

“When you have a 50 percent graduation rate, you need to think outside-the-box,” said Sen. McCain, who sits on the Indian Affairs committee. “I’ve been on this committee for many years and there hasn’t been much improvement in BIE schools. Here we have a proposal to allow parents another opportunity to provide their children with another education.”

Arizona State Senator Carlyle Begay (R-LD7) testified in support of the S. 2711 and spoke about his firsthand account of being born on the Navajo Nation and attending a BIE boarding school as a child.

“My experience, and the many others like mine, is the perfect example as to why America should not focus on systems of education, but rather ensuring access to educational opportunities that children need and parents want,” Begay testified. “It’s imperative that we build upon our obligation of quality [education] options, access to high-performing schools and creating opportunities now for Native American families through policies like the Native American Education Opportunity Act.”

ESAs allow parents to use their child’s state allocated education funds on the education expenses such as private school tuition, online classes, tutors, books and other education options.

In Arizona, children living on the state’s 22 tribal lands automatically qualify for the state’s ESA program. However, Native American children attending federally funded BIE schools are not eligible since the schools funded federally. The Native American Education Opportunity Act would fix this disparity and expand the ESA programs any state with students attending BIE schools that have ESA programs, currently that would include Nevada, Florida and Mississippi.

“The Native American Education Opportunity Act allows BIE families to participate in a program that is open to almost every other tribal student in Arizona’s reservation communities,” added Sen. Begay. “There are 185 BIE schools in the nation. Nearly 5 out of 10 students attending these schools will not graduate high school. What if we could give ESAs to those BIE students in Arizona who would not have made it to graduation otherwise?”

Full video of the hearing: http://1.usa.gov/1V9O7FN.

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