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Advocates for Native Students Call for Federal Education Policy Changes

Leaders in the National Indian Education Association have released a new policy statement asking for the federal government to take several steps they say are necessary to improve outcomes for Native American children who are among the most at risk for struggling in school and dropping out before graduation.

The statement was released at the end of last week and is directed at the Obama administration as it transitions into a second term. NIEA leaders—who point out that 93 percent of Native children attend public school systems, while 7 percent are enrolled in the Bureau of Indian Education system—contend that too few American Indian children receive an education "steeped in their language or culture," regardless of where they attend school.

To address that, NIEA is calling for passage of the Native CLASS Act (Native Culture, Language, and Access for Success in Schools) in Congress, which would help strengthen tribal control of education by authorizing tribal education agencies to function like state education agencies with authority to operate federal education programs (in particular, having more control over Title I expenditures) in schools that are located on reservations. The bill would also establish a federal grant program to support the creation and development of tribal language-immersion programs and give tribes and their education agencies access to students' academic records.

Other recommendations include re-establishing a separate White House initiative on tribal colleges and universities, which was earlier folded into a broader initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native education. NIEA leaders point out that there are separate and distinct White House initiatives on African-American education and historically black colleges and universities and that "American Indian and Alaska Native students deserve no less."

NIEA leaders also call for U.S. Department of Education officials to consult more meaningfully and regularly with tribal governments as they develop education policy and make funding decisions for Native students.

The policy statement comes just before nearly 600 tribal leaders from around the country meet in Washington next week with President Obama and members of his administration as part of the Fourth Annual White House Tribal Nations Conference.

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