Senate Ed Bill Bolsters Role of Alaska Tribes

An education bill  the U.S. Senate passed last week includes several provisions that boost the role of Alaska Native tribes. The bill, called “Every Child Achieves” re-writes the law known as “No Child Left Behind,” a key piece of the domestic legacy of President George W. Bush.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who sits on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, says she added a provision requiring states and school districts to consult with tribes and Native parents as they develop education plans.

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“I think it’s time that our tribes and our Native organizations throughout the country will be part of designing the plans and shaping the programs used to improve schools that serve our Native students,” she said on the Senate floor.

The bill establishes a competitive grant program to support Native language immersion schools. The legislation doesn’t authorize a specific amount of money for the grants.

Murkowski also used the bill to revise the Alaska Native Educational Equity Program.  The long-standing grant program last year gave some $30 million to Alaska school districts, the University of Alaska, tribal groups and non-profits. Murkowski says if the bill becomes law, future grants will go directly to tribes and Native organizations that have expertise running education programs, or to tribes that partner with school districts.

“This will not only honor our constitutional relationship to Alaska Natives but ensure that they can take on more responsibility for helping their children succeed,” she said.

The bill passed the Senate by a wide margin. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan praised it for easing the mandates of No Child Left Behind and reducing the amount of testing that eats up classroom time. But Duncan also says the bill doesn’t do enough for low-performing schools.