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U.S. Department of Ed. Announces $3 Million in Grants for Native Youth

The U.S. Department of Education will award up to seven grants to tribal communities to identify barriers in improving life for Native youth and to develop strategies to mitigate those challenges. 

The grants, which were announced Wednesday, will range from $400,000 to $600,000 each and will be awarded before the end of September. On a Wednesday press call, Joy Silvern, deputy chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Education, said the grants could support a variety of projects, including culturally responsive teaching, mental health services, or preschool programs. In order to receive a grant, a tribe must partner with a school and identify community-specific challenges and potential solutions to help Native youth become college- and career-ready. 

"We know that tribes are in the best position to determine the needs and barriers that Native youth face," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a statement. "The Native Youth Community Projects will allow tribal communities to come together to improve outcomes for students."

Native youth have been a focus of the Obama Administration in the past year. Several listening tours have been held to observe conditions in tribal communities, and President Obama's FY 2016 budget proposal requested a total of $20.8 billion for federal programs that serve tribes, including $53 million to expand a program for Native youth. 

A Bureau of Indian Education Study Group released a report last June that highlighted the challenges facing Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools. The BIE currently oversees 183 schools in 23 states, and those schools are among the lowest performing schools in the nation. According to study group's report, in 2011, 4th grade students in BIE schools performed lower on the National Assessment of Educational Progress than American Indian students in non-BIE schools. During the 2011-12 school year, the graduation rate at BIE schools was only 53 percent, compared to the national average of 80 percent. Native youth often live in communities with high unemployment rates and high rates of alcoholism, which Education Week's Lesli Maxwell explored in a 2013 story package on Indian education. 

Although the BIE Study Group recommended strategies to improve those schools, including moving away from a federal "command and control culture" and provide tribes with the autonomy to offer classes relevant to their history and culture, little progress has been made. At a Congressional hearing last week, several lawmakers who have toured BIE schools said that conditions at schools have not improved. According to a blog on the hearing by my colleague Lauren Camera, progress has been slowed by "bureaucratic layers of red tape, lack of expertise among staff, and a dizzying number of committees and agencies that have layers of jurisdiction over the schools, but have historically failed to take responsibility for them."

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