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Proposed Bill Would Provide Funds for Native Students to Leave Tribal Schools

Legislation proposed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., would provide education savings accounts to Native American students who attend Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools, which would allow students to pay for private school tuition, tutors, and educational materials.

The Native American Education Opportunity Act would operate in Arizona, Mississippi, Florida, and Nevada, all states that currently have Education Savings Account (ESA) programs. Up to 90 percent of the funds that BIE would spend on each student would be allocated to the savings account, and BIE would retain 10 percent of the per-pupil funds.

BIE schools have received increased attention in the past few years after several reports highlighted dangerous conditions and poor academics in the schools, which score amongst the lowest in the nation on standardized tests. The four-year graduation rate for American Indian and Alaska Native students is the lowest in the nation at 69.6 percent, although since the 2010-11 school year, that rate has increased by 4.6 percentage points, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

A report released this week found nearly 40 percent of the nation's 180 BIE schools were not inspected for health and safety violations during fiscal year 2015, meaning students were in schools without fire extinguishers or with boilers that leaked natural gas for months.

"It is unconscionable to leave Native American students stranded in failing schools when we can create the option of expanding educational opportunities on Indian reservations now," said Sen. McCain, in a press release about the bill.

A 2014 report recommended an overhaul of BIE schools, although improvements have been slow. Since then, the Obama administration has offered millions of dollars in grants for tribes to take control of their schools, as well as grants to create or expand programs that aim to improve educational and life outcomes for Native youth.

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