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Federal Grants to Boost Teaching, Studying of Native Languages

The U.S. Department of Education's office of English-language acquisition is offering $3.2 million in grants to support the instruction and studying of various Native American languages, in an attempt to support the preservation of those languages and boost the education of Native youth. 

The funds will be administered under the Native American and Alaska Native children in School Program (NAM), which supports various projects like teacher training, curriculum development, and community participation initiatives that increase both the studying of Native languages and the English-language proficiency of Native students.

The announcement comes on the heels of a February decision by the Education Department to triple the funding available for the Native Youth Community Projects, which supports programs that are designed through community and tribal partnerships. Those programs span a variety of topics, including language immersion and mental health.

A 2015 federal report based on feedback from a seven-state listening tour encouraged states and districts to do more to preserve Native languagesSome states have already taken steps to do so. In Montana, Gov. Steve Bullock signed a bill in 2015 that created a tribal-language immersion program in five Montana school districts. The bill will provide $45,000 over two years to create the programs. A separate Montana bill signed in 2015 provided $1.5 million in funding to the Montana Indian Language Preservation program, which aims to preserve tribal languages using dictionaries and teaching materials.

Several districts across the country have also created language immersion programs or charter schools have opened to recover or preserve specific languages. In Idaho in 2013, a charter school offering Native-language immersion opened that focuses specifically on the Shoshone language.  In Arizona, the Window Rock school district, which serves the Navajo Nation, runs a Navajo-language immersion school

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