WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sen. Carlyle Begay addressed the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs today, asking to expand Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) as an option for children attending Bureau of Indian Education funded schools. Sen. John McCain is sponsoring the Native American Education Opportunity Act (S. 2711) to help fix the disparity in educational opportunities for BIE students. Currently in Arizona, only kids attending state public schools are eligible for the school choice program. Several Native American families applied for ESAs hoping to get their children in for the current school year, but were denied access because their children attend federally funded BIE schools.
“The Native American Education Opportunity Act allows BIE families to participate in a program that is open to almost every other tribal student in Arizona’s 22 reservation communities,” Sen. Begay said during his Senate testimony. “There are 185 BIE schools in the nation. Nearly five out of ten students attending these schools will not graduate high school. What if we could give ESAs to those BIE students in Arizona who would not have made it to graduation otherwise?”
Across America, Native Americans have the lowest graduation rate of all other ethnicities at 67 percent. Arizona fares even worse with a graduation rate of 64 percent, the lowest in the state.
“These statistics make one thing clear – at least in the area of education, the Federal Government has failed to live up to its responsibilities to Indian children,” added Sen. Begay. “This is why I was inspired to help expand school choice on tribal lands and offer new educational options to our students. Empowering tribal parents with the ability to customize their child’s education or obtain access to new quality options is one way to build up Native American communities through education.”
Parents in tribal communities who are able to access ESAs are allowed to use 90 percent of their child’s state allocated education funding for private school, online curriculum, tutors, home school and other education opportunities. Because the program uses state funds, those children attending federally funded BIE schools are automatically disqualified.
The Native American Education Opportunity Act would be the first federal dollars accessed for use in Education Savings Accounts, a program which is gaining popularity among parents in several states. The legislation would help the students in states where the ESA program is already in place and there are BIE schools, including Arizona, Nevada, Florida and Mississippi.
Testimony from today’s hearing: http://bit.ly/1UXiL5V