Tester’s Native American educator bill gets a hearing

Senator’s bill to recruit and retain teachers in Indian Country gets overwhelming support

(U.S. Senate) – Senator Jon Tester, a former teacher and school board member, is seeing overwhelming support for his legislation to recruit and retain more teachers in Indian Country.

Tester’s bill, the Native Education Support and Training (NEST) Act, yesterday received support from tribal, education, and administrative officials during a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing.

The NEST Act establishes new scholarships, federal student loan forgiveness plans, and teacher development courses for prospective and existing educators who commit to teaching at schools that serve a high population of Native students or a Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) school.

“If we want to address teacher shortages head on, we must make college more affordable and accessible to those who want to teach in Indian Country,” said Tester, Vice-Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. “Teaching the next generation is an incredible honor and responsibility, and we must do all we can to incentivize our best and brightest to use their skills in Native American classrooms.”

Tester’s NEST Act:
• Establishes three scholarships for Native American students seeking a bachelor or graduate degree in education or school administration.
• Creates student loan forgiveness plans that will forgive federal student loans for teachers who commit at least five years to serve at a school with a high population of Native students or BIE school.
• Extends the Federal Perkins Loan Cancellation Program to teachers who instruct Native language immersion classes.

Tester’s bill is supported by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the National Education Association.

“Native families should not have to relocate to find the best teachers for their children,” said Michelle Accardi, Director of Policy and Partnerships for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. “The NEST Act, in addition to providing board certification to teachers at BIE affiliated schools, helps to strengthen teaching and learning in tribal schools and other schools with a high concentration of Native American students.”

The number of unfilled full-time teaching positions at BIE schools has doubled over the past five years. Last school year one out of every eleven BIE classrooms lacked a permanent teacher.

During the same hearing, the committee also heard supportive testimony on Tester’s Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act, which preserves and protects endangered Native languages.

Tester’s NEST Act and is available HERE and is cosponsored by Senators Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).