Earlier this month, U.S. Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and John McCain (R-AZ) introduced legislation that would provide educational choice opportunities to Native American students.
The Native American Education Opportunity Act would create Education Savings Accounts (ESA) for Native American students living on Indian reservations in states where an ESA program is currently in place. Mississippi is one of four states where students would be eligible. The customizable ESA would offer an alternative to attending Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools and could be used to pay for private school tuition, tutoring, textbooks, etc.
“Access to Education Savings Accounts are an important and useful tool to help support Indian country,” said Lankford. “This bill gives American Indian students access to tuition, textbooks, tutoring services, therapies, technology, and transportation needs through education savings accounts. I’m glad to be able to partner with Senator McCain to advance this legislation to help the next generations in our tribal communities across the nation.”
“The federal government is failing in its responsibility to provide quality education to Native American children,” said McCain. “I’m proud to reintroduce this bill with Senator Lankford, which would empower parents and tribes to customize education options and offer alternative opportunities outside of the BIE system. We have no greater responsibility to our next generation than to help them prepare to compete in an increasingly competitive workforce, and this bill would provide Native American students the best opportunity to succeed in the classroom and beyond.”
Legislation that was introduced last year cleared the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
Mississippi currently has eight BIE schools, the most of any state east of the Mississippi River. This includes Bogue Chitto Elementary School, Conehatta Elementary School, Pearl River Elementary School, Red Water Elementary School, Standing Pine Elementary School, Tucker Elementary School, Choctaw Central Middle School, and Choctaw Central High School.
All schools are part of the Choctaw Tribal School System and are located in either Leake, Neshoba, or Newton counties.
If this legislation passes and is signed into law, students living on Indian reservations would be eligible to receive an ESA. This program is funded by using 90 percent of what BIE would have spent on each individual student.