Alarming Audit of BIE Schools Backs McCain Bill to Give Students School Choice
By Kim Martinez
A recent audit of tribal schools that are operated by the Bureau of Indian Education reveals that 19 of the schools have gone uninspected for four years, according to a Cronkite News article. The report details how schools are required to be inspected by government officials once a year. This audit performed by the Government Accountability Office provides more evidence that the BIE system is in extreme disarray and BIE students should have options outside of this broken system.
The audit comes just weeks after testimony in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on legislation that will give parents of BIE students access to federal funds to use for school choice options.
“When you have a 50 percent graduation rate, you need to think outside-the-box,” said Sen. McCain who sits on the committee for Indian Affairs. “I’ve been on this committee for many years and there hasn’t been much improvement in BIE schools. Here we have a proposal to allow parents another opportunity to provide their children with another education.”
Sen. McCain introduced the Native American Education Opportunity Act (NAEO), which will allow BIE families to access education savings accounts to provide an alternative to their current school.
Arizona Sen. Carlyle Begay testified in support of McCain’s bill after personally seeing the need for educational options for Arizona’s BIE students. Last year in Arizona, Begay fought to make ESAs available to the children living in any of the 22 reservation communities. Unfortunately, several families were turned away from the program because their child attended a federally-funded BIE school, making the child ineligible for ESA funding.
Sen. McCain’s Native American Education OpportunityAct will fix that disparity by allowing federal funds into the ESA program. If NAEO passes, BIE students will have a way out of their BIE schools.
“Why should this opportunity be limited to families attending state public schools and not be afforded to those attending federally funded schools,” asked Begay. “This is a small solution to the much bigger issue of helping tribal students get the best education. The availability of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts gives parents the power to choose the education that best fits their child’s needs and that is a start toward changing futures.”
ESAs offers comprehensive school choice options to families allowing them to use their accounts for various education expenses including private school, online classes, home schooling, tutors, therapies and books.
The legislation would help the students in states with BIE schools with an ESA program already in place including Arizona, Nevada, Florida and Mississippi.