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Education Dept. Program Targets Native American Schools

The Obama administration unveiled Wednesday $3 million in grants to help American Indian and Alaska Native kids get ready for college.

The U.S. Department of Education will award five to seven demonstration grants ranging from $400,000 to $600,000 to tribal communities, before the current federal fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. The program is designed to help communities figure out what is keeping Native students from achieving their full potential and develop and implement programs to help overcome those problems. The ultimate goal is to find strategies that work and can inform future projects.

The grants could go public or Bureau of Indian Education schools and tribal communities. Outside partners, such as non-profit organizations or post-secondary programs can also participate.

The program sounds similar to another Obama initiative for under-resourced rural and urban communities, Promise Neighborhoods. That program helps school districts pair grants with wraparound services, such as arts education, with academics. It's had a mixed track record, with some communities complaining that the initial "planning grants" didn't go as far as they would have liked in providing them with resources to implement their vision.

What's more, the Obama administration has taken some steps, particularly in its second term to help improve outcomes for American Indian students, including floating a plan to revamp the long-troubled Bureau of Indian Education.

And, in its budget request, the Obama administration has asked for additional resources for native education, to the tune of more than $20 billion, a $1.5 billion increase over current funding. And the administration is asking for an additional $50 million in funding for programs for Native youth. The House education committee, which has limited control over the BIE, also explored the issue in a hearing last week.

Many schools in Indian country have dealt with long-standing, seemingly intractable problems for decades. Is $3 million—and a competitive grant program—really enough to begin to address issues including high-dropout rates and lack of access to effective teachears? Comments section is open!

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