A Better Chance for Native Education

By Koteskey, Tyler | Reason, May 2017 | Go to article overview

A Better Chance for Native Education


Koteskey, Tyler, Reason


"IT'S JUST THE epitome of broken," former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said of the Bureau of Indian Education's abysmal track record with Native American students. "Just utterly bankrupt." After Betsy DeVos' recent confirmation to the post Duncan held under Barack Obama, and with the GOP holding majorities in both houses of Congress, the federal government has a rare opportunity to accomplish some much-needed reforms to help children trapped in this system.

The Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) receives funding from the interior, agriculture, and education departments, serving 48,000 students across 23 states. According to the Government Accountability Office, BIE day schools spent over $16,394 per pupil during the 2009-2010 school year, far above the national public school average of $10,295 per pupil. Despite this, BIE schools are some of the worst in the country, with a graduation rate barely topping 50 percent. In reading, students score an average of two grade levels lower on the National Assessment for Educational Progress than their Native counterparts in non-BIE schools. What's more, these students are disproportionately too poor to access better options.

As a school district under federal jurisdiction, the BIE is an ideal place for the new administration to put school choice into action without interfering with local control. Last April, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced the Native American Educational Opportunity Act, which would give Education Savings Accounts (ESAS) to eligible students attending BIE schools. …

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