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Proposal would build access to cultural education for Indian students

WASHINGTON –– U.S. Senators Heidi Heitkamp (DND), James Lankford (R-OK), and Steve Daines (R-MT) reintroduced bipartisan legislation to make sure Native American students who are eligible for federal learning resources that can help address their unique academic and cultural needs are not prevented from accessing those critical programs.

Although the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ (BIA) last official count of eligible Native students took place more than two decades ago, the federal government still relies on this severely outdated data to determine federal funding needs and distribution for the Johnson-O’Malley (JOM) program – a federal cultural educational support program that works to boost academic achievement among underserved students in Native populations. By requiring the federal government to accurately count all Native students who could be served under the program, Heitkamp, Lankford, and Daines’ bipartisan Johnson O’Malley Supplemental Indian Education Program Modernization Act would work to change that – helping close significant gaps in access to programs that can help Native students improve academically.

“Native students are among America’s most underserved youth, and for years the federal government has been neglecting its duty to help them access learning opportunities that can help them thrive,” said Heitkamp. “By updating decades old data the federal government uses to determine federal funding for critical cultural and educational support for Native students, Senator Lankford and I are working to prevent Native children from falling through the cracks. We need strong bipartisan solution like this bill to build access to critical learning programs Native students need to succeed, and to build opportunities that make sure no Native child is forgotten.”

“It is the tragic reality that American Indian students in some parts of the country must overcome many hardships as they seek a quality education. The Johnson O’- Malley program provides much needed cultural and academic assistance to those students and helps open the door to a brighter tomorrow. This legislation corrects a twenty year old problem and ensures the program operates with an accurate count of Indian students attending public schools,” said Lankford.

“We need to ensure that Native American students have the tools they need to learn,” said Daines. “We can’t properly help tribal communities in a meaningful way without knowing who and how many people we are serving. Education is the bridge to a brighter future and I’m determined to work to improve the educational systems in tribal communities.”

“Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and James Lankford’s (R-OK) Johnson-O’- Malley Supplemental Indian Education Program Modernization Act will provide long needed and necessary updates to the JOM program which awards supplemental assistance to eligible Indian students from Federally-recognized Indian tribes that attend public schools; and for educational programs designed to meet their specialized and unique educational activities, ages 3 to grade 12,” said James Whitman, an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes and former National Johnson O’Malley Association Board of Directors member representing the state of North Dakota. “The most important provision of this bill will result in the first update of the number of Indian students eligible for Johnson O’Malley services and assistance in over 20 years. Obtaining this eligible student count will drive the policy, program and funding discussions needed to make JOM more effective, meaningful and beneficial for all eligible Indian children.”

During a time when Native students graduate from high school at a rate far lower than any other racial or ethnic demographic in the country, Heitkamp, Lankford and Daines are working to make sure that the cultural programs in public schools that have linked to boosting Native students’ morale, as well as academic performance and attendance, are readily available in classrooms. Despite the stark need for such programs, the last official count in 1995 by BIA, identified 271,884 Native students eligible for such resources. Since that time, the BIA has attempted to officially verify Native students eligible for the program without success, while the National Congress of American Indians has recently indicated a large gap in access to these programs – with a marked increase of more than 500,000 Native young people nationwide in 2010 that could be eligible for JOM cultural resources.

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