Tester: It is time to deliver for Native American students

Vice-Chairman’s bills to increase early education opportunities and boost school construction are taken up by Indian Affairs Committee

(U.S. Senate)-Senator Jon Tester is continuing his push to improve education in Indian Country and deliver on the commitments made to Native American families.

Two of Tester’s tribal education bills, the Tribal Early Childhood Act and the SAFETY Act, today received a legislative hearing in the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

“It is time to deliver for Native American students, and ensure families in Indian Country have access to a quality education,” said Tester, Vice-Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. “Both of these bills were built with tribal input and I encourage the Committee to quickly pass them onto the Senate floor.”

Tester’s Tribal Early Childhood Education Act will better coordinate existing Department of Health and Human Services tribal early education initiatives, provide additional flexibility to establish or expand tribally-developed early childhood initiatives in Native communities, and recruit and retain more early childhood teachers to Native American preschools.

Currently, 32 percent of Native American families with children under the age of five live in poverty, which is double the rate of the entire nation. Many Native American preschool students lack access to early childhood development opportunities available to their peers and, as a result, they have lower average scores on literacy and math than any other peer group.

The SAFETY Act will fund the construction and upgrade of classrooms, teacher housing, college dormitories, STEM labs, and vocational facilities for Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools, Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCU), and state-run K-12 schools with large American Indian and Alaska Native student populations.

According to the American Indian College Fund, 83 percent of Tribal Colleges and Universities are in high need of student housing facilities and 74 percent lack sufficient classroom space.

Both of Tester’s bills are supported by the National Congress of American Indians.

In November, Tester’s Native Education Support and Training (NEST) Act, which will recruit and retain more teachers in Indian Country, also received a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing.

Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) is cosponsoring the Tribal Early Childhood Act and Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) are cosponsoring the SAFETY Act.