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February 25, 2016

Washington, D.C. – At the National Indian Education Association’s (NIEA) annual legislative summit, Senator Barrasso (R-WY), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, announced he was introducing a bill to Congress that would have ramifications for the future of Native education. The Reforming American Indian Standards of Education (S.2580) (RAISE) Act would eliminate the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) and establish an independent Indian Education Agency within the Department of the Interior.

While speaking to NIEA membership about the bill, Senator Barrasso said, “BIA is not an agency equipped to run schools…the [process] needs to be more streamlined with increased accountability.” He went on to say, “My legislation will ensure that the administrators, teachers, and students from tribal communities are being listened to and that their needs are being met. It is an important first step for better transparency and accountability for schools across Indian country.”

Under Barrasso’s plan a director, who would be appointed to a six-year term, would lead the new Indian Education Agency. The new agency’s director would be appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The new agency would also staff two assistant directors, one overseeing education curriculum and the other overseeing facilities management. The bill assumes that by merging all education and administrative offices under the leadership of one agency, a more efficient and functional Indian education system could be established- one that could be responsive to local needs.

NIEA’s Executive Director, Ahniwake Rose said of the bill, “The proposed language is a direct response to the reform needed within the BIE system – and Mr. Barrasso has provided a bold proposal on how to improve the process. I look forward to addressing NIEA membership about the bill to better understand how this action would impact their communities and working with Senator Barrasso to determine what is in the best interest of Native students.”

NIEA will continue to monitor and provide updates to members on the advancement of this bill.

 To read S. 2580, please click here.

The first tribe-operated school has opened on the Tule River Indian Reservation.

Towanits School opened its doors to kindergartners through third graders on Aug. 17.

The school is located in the Towanits Education Center. There is a staff of four — one teacher per grade.

Dr. Jerry Livesely, Education director for the tribe, said they have 37 children enrolled in the school.

According to Frances Hammond, there have been schools on the reservation before, but this is the first tribe-controlled school and the first elementary school on the reservation in decades.

Livesley said the school is following the findings of a 2013 White House report on Native American Youth that found tribes needed to become more involved in the operation of their children’s education.

Also, said Livesley, “Research has showed Native American children have needs that are not addressed in public schools.”

He said his research found Native American kids in Porterville and Burton schools were falling short of bringing the Tule River students up to proficient status according to the State assessment tests (STAR). In fact, he said, the majority of students in the Porterville District were falling short of being proficient.

The Towanits School is structured differently from a public school, he pointed out, with much more active engagement and hands on learning. Also, the goal is to keep classes small, less than 15 students.

Another goal is to make Native American children proficient in English, math and reading.

To read the entire article, click here.