Federal Bill passes first vote to bring school choice to Native American students in BIE schools 

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sept. 7, 2016)-The American Federation for Children applauds passage in the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs of a bill to expand education savings accounts to tribal children who are attending federally-funded Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools in four states.  Sen. John McCain is the sponsor of S. 2711, the Native American Education Opportunity Act (NAEO). NAEO provides students living on tribal lands the ability to opt out of their BIE school and use an Education Savings Account (ESA) to pay for the school or curriculum of their parent’s choice.

Sen. McCain presented a convincing argument to committee members by decrying the extremely low graduation rates and poor educational outcomes on tribal lands. 

“A new school year has begun for about 41,000 Native American students in 185 BIE schools around the nation,” said Senator McCain. “Statistically, half of them will not graduate high school. Their test scores will trail by double digits compared to their peers attending public schools in urban areas. While some BIE schools have not been inspected for safety in 10 years, BIE spends more money on Native students than most other school systems in the nation-an estimated $15,000 per student per year. This is unacceptable. I thank the committee for passing my legislation that builds upon school choice initiatives run by states like Arizona, Mississippi and Florida, that empower low-income families to send their kids to a school of their choice – including charter schools, distance learning, and special needs classes.” 

“When you look at the state of some tribal schools and the dismal outcomes for students living on tribal lands, it is clear that we must do more to help Native American children get a quality education,” said Betsy DeVos, chairman of the American Federation for Children. “We are grateful to Sen. McCain for his leadership on this bill and thank the other committee members for supporting the Native American families that absolutely need school choice and the resources to ensure the best education for their children.”

NAEO would apply to the states that have both an ESA program and BIE schools, which include Arizona, Florida, Nevada and Mississippi. If NAEO passes, BIE parents can choose to use their child’s ESA to pay for private school, online school, homeschool, books, tutors and education therapies. 

NAEO is a federal compliment of an existing state law already in place in Arizona where children living on tribal lands and attending state-funded public schools are automatically eligible to receive an ESA.  

“In 2015, when we passed the state-funded ESA bill to benefit Arizona’s Native American children, many BIE parents wondered why their children were excluded from having this option,” said Arizona Sen. Carlyle Begay, R-LD7. “We quickly realized we need to fix this disparity at a federal level so it is great news that today’s vote brings us closer to giving BIE families the option of using school choice.” 

To find out more about the Native American Education Opportunity Act visit https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/2711.

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