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New Legislation Aims to Increase Native Teachers at Tribal Schools

Legislation proposed by U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, this week will establish scholarships and create loan-forgiveness plans for Native teachers who work at tribal schools, according to a story by The Great Falls Tribune.

The NEST Act is an attempt to eliminate teacher shortages at tribal schools and encourage teachers to commit to the profession. Native students seeking a teaching degree would be eligible for scholarships, but teachers would only be eligible for loan forgiveness if they commit to at least five years of teaching. 

"For too long, students in Indian Country haven't had the consistency in the classroom that they need to succeed," Tester said in the article. "My bill will help recruit and retain quality teachers who are committed to Native students, culture, and heritage."

2011 report in the Journal of Indigenous Research found that few postsecondary programs are graduating consistent numbers of American Indian teachers, which means "many reservation schools continue to hire temporary and sometimes poorly prepared teachers to fill in the gaps." Native teachers make up less than 1 percent of the teachers enrolled in teacher preparation programs, even though 1.3 percent of students in K-12 identify as Native students. During the 2011-12 school year, less than 1 percent of teachers nationwide identified as American Indian or Alaska Native, a percentage has remained consistent over the past decade.

Several universities, like Oregon's Portland State University, the University of Wisconsin-Superior, and Wisconsin's Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College, have attempted to recruit more Native Americans to the teaching profession with the help of federal grants. One district in Wisconsin has seen its graduation rate jump from 60 percent to more than 95 percent since 2008, which the district attributes partly to an increase in Native teachers.

The NEST Act is cosponsored by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-NM. 

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