PHOENIX (Sept. 16, 2016)-U.S. Senators John McCain and John Barrasso toured St. Michael Indian School today located within the Navajo Nation, the country’s largest tribal community. The purpose of the visit to the school in rural Window Rock, Ariz. was to see first-hand how this reservation school is succeeding when so many others are failing the nation’s Native American Children. The visit comes on the heels of last week’s U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs meeting where S.2711, the Native American Education Opportunity Act, passed the first vote to allow kids attending BIE schools to also have access to education savings accounts (ESA) if their parents are unhappy with their BIE school.
“If they can pass this ESA for BIE students that would be great because some parents can’t even afford running water or electricity so they want their kids to have a good education and better life,” said Gwendolin Williams, a Navajo mother who was denied using ESAs for her own children because they attended a BIE school. “They are not allowed to get this ESA and that’s not right or fair.”
The Native American Education Opportunity Act would benefit BIE students in four states including Arizona, Nevada, Mississippi and Florida which all have existing state-funded ESA programs. Since BIE schools are federally funded, tribal children in those states can not access ESAs which currently only use state funds.
ESAs allow tribal parents to have the funding to find the best education for their child including paying for private school like St. Michael Indian School. Starting in 2015, Arizona’s existing state-funded ESA program has helped more than 100 Native American children access St. Michael Indian School, many of whom were coming from low-performing schools. St. Michael has a 98 percent high school graduation rate. Nationally, only 5 out of 10 BIE students graduate high school.
The Native American Education Opportunity Act next goes to the full U.S. Senate for consideration.