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Native Languages, Tribal Schools, to get Boost in New Legislation

Various Native language programs would receive reauthorization under legislation that passed the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs last week, along with a bill that creates an Indian Education Agency to oversee tribal schools.

If passed by Congress and signed into law, the Native American Languages Reauthorization Act of 2015 would reauthorize various Native language programs through 2020 and provide grants to support programs that teach or preserve Native American languages.

A 2015 federal report based on feedback from a seven-state listening tour encouraged states and districts to do more to preserve Native languages. In March, the U.S. Department of Education's office of English-language acquisition offered $3.2 million in grants to support the instruction and studying of various Native American languages through the Native American and Alaska Native children in School Program (NAM). Initiatives funded by NAM support the preservation of those languages and boost the education of Native youth.

The Senate committee also passed the Reforming American Indian Standards of Education Act (RAISE), which would remove oversight of BIE schools from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and instead create an Indian Education Agency within the Department of the Interior.

The BIE has been under scrutiny for years after several federal reports found the agency to be ineffective at overseeing its 183 schools. In 2014, the Obama administration published a "Blueprint for Reform," which called for more tribal control in managing BIE schools. It also called for the reorganization of the agency, which would move away from management and instead provide more resources and support to tribal schools. Since then, several tribes have received federal funding to take control of their schools, but overall improvement for Native students has been slow.

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