Indian Time - A Voice from the Eastern Door

U.S. Senate Committee Unanimously Passes Bill to Build Access to Cultural Educational Opportunities for Native Students


October 12, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On October 11, 2017, U.S. Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), James Lankford (R-OK), and Steve Daines (R-MT) announced that the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs unanimously passed their bill to make sure Native American students are not blocked from accessing federal learning resources for which they are eligible. According to recent Census Bureau estimates, about 500,000 potentially eligible Native students are excluded from accessing federal resources to help meet their unique cultural and academic needs.

Currently the federal government relies on two-decade old Bureau of Indian Affairs’ (BIA) data to determine Native students’ eligibility for federal funding needs and distribution for the Johnson-O’Malley (JOM) program – a federal cultural educational support program that works to boost academic achievement among underserved students in Native populations. Heitkamp, Lankford, and Daines’ bipartisan Johnson O’Malley Supplemental Indian Education Program Modernization Act would work to change that by requiring the federal government to accurately count all Native students who could be served under the program. By providing more accurate eligibility data, the senators aim to help close significant achievement gaps among Native students and make sure they are able to access programs that help them improve academically.

During a time when Native students graduate from high school at a rate far lower than any other racial or ethnic demographic in the country, Heitkamp, Lankford and Daines are working to make sure that the cultural programs in public schools that have linked to boosting Native students’ morale, as well as academic performance and attendance, are readily available in classrooms. Despite the stark need for such programs, the last official count in 1995 by BIA identified 271,884 Native students eligible for such resources. Since that time, the BIA has attempted to officially verify Native students eligible for the program without success, while the National Congress of American Indians has recently indicated a large gap in access to these programs – with a marked increase of more than 500,000 Native young people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which means there were close to 800,000 students nationwide in 2010 that could be eligible for JOM cultural resources.

This bipartisan bill would call on the U.S. Department of the Interior to update its severely outdated count of Native students in a timely manner by using existing public information from various data sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), to show underserved students who are potentially eligible under the program. This data is crucial for making sure Native students in public schools can access the cultural and educational investments critical to their success.


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