Indian nations have a tremendous stake in an improved education system. Education prepares Native children not only for active and equal participation in the global market, but also to be positive, involved members of their communities. Equally important, investments in education equip the future leaders of tribal governments. There is no more vital resource to the continued existence and integrity of Indian tribes than Native children.

NCAI is committed to ensuring that American Indian and Alaska Native students have the best educational opportunities possible, including access to a quality education system that respects and addresses their unique cultural and linguistic needs.

There are approximately 644,000 American Indian and Alaska Native students in the US K-12 system, representing 1.2 percent of public school students nationally (r1).  Ninety percent of Native students attend public schools, while eight percent attend schools administered by the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE). States where Native students comprise the largest proportions of the total student populations include Alaska (27 percent); Oklahoma (19 percent); Montana (11 percent); New Mexico (11 percent); and South Dakota (11 percent).(r2

Native students’ academic achievement and educational attainment lags far behind that of their white peers. Over the past 10 years, Native students have been the only population to have not improved in reading or math (grades four and eight).(r3)  Nationwide, Native youth face some of the lowest high school graduation rates, and even fewer enroll in and graduate from college. On average, less than 50 percent of Native students graduate from high school each year in the seven states with the highest percentage of American Indian and Alaska Native students.(r4)

Providing Native children with a quality education is a central component of the federal government’s trust responsibility to tribes, and this commitment must be upheld. Tribes are deeply invested in improving Indian education, and strengthening tribal control over education is key to Native students’ success. Tribal governments are in the best position to address the unique educational needs of our Native students for a simple but intuitive reason: tribes know their children and communities the best.

The recently introduced Native Culture, Language, and Access for Success (CLASS) Act firmly recognizes and supports the role of tribal governments as sovereigns in directing the education of Native students. The bill provides a number of provisions that tribal leaders have long sought, including increased tribal control over the education of tribal citizens, a formula grant program for language immersion schools, and comprehensive wraparound services for Native youth. As Indian Country’s education bill, the Native CLASS Act should be enacted into law to expand the educational opportunities available to Native students.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is the major federal statute governing public education in states and school districts across the country. Last authorized by Congress in 2002, ESEA is long overdue for reauthorization. While the President has made clear that education reform is a priority of his Administration, Congress has been slow to move any legislation forward.

NCAI is working closely with Congress to ensure that the Native CLASS Act is incorporated into the larger ESEA reauthorization. Download our factsheet  to read more about the following tribal priorities that must be included into all ESEA reauthorization legislation: 

Strengthen tribal control of education.
Preserve and revitalize Native languages.
Provide tribes with access to tribal member student records. 
Encourage tribal/state partnership.

Page References

  1. Status and Trends in the Education of American Indians and Alaska Natives: 2008 (NCES 2008-084). Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
  2. Id.
  3. US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2005, 2007, and 2009 National Indian Education Studies.
  4. These states are Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming. Faircloth, Susan, and John Tippeconnic. "The Dropout/Graduation Crisis Among American Indian and Alaska Native Students: Failure to Respond Places the Future of Native Peoples at Risk." The Civil Rights Project. January 2010. 

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