Senators McCain and Barrasso welcomed by Navajo children at rural reservation school
By Kim Martinez
High schoolers lined the halls, kindergartners were on their best behavior and a group of Navajo mothers came to shake the Senators’ hands and say thank you. St. Michael Indian School in Window Rock had a welcomed visit from U.S. Senators John McCain and John Barrasso last Friday. The administration proudly showed off their high-performing school as an example of academic success in a reservation community – the nation’s tribal communities often suffer from the worst graduation rates in the country.
Barrasso and McCain wanted to see for themselves this special school that graduates more than 90 percent of their Native American students. Many of the students are able to attend St. Michael through school choice. In Arizona’s tribal communities, families from state-funded public schools can opt to use education savings accounts (ESAs). ESAs allow tribal parents to have the funding to find the best education for their child including paying for private school like St. Michael Indian School. Arizona’s existing state-funded ESA program has helped more than 100 Native American children access St. Michael Indian School, many of whom were coming from low-performing schools.
The Senators’ visit also brought more attention to the plight of students enrolled in BIE schools, which only graduate 5 out of 10 students nationally. Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs passed S.2711, the Native American Education Opportunity Act, to allow kids attending BIE schools access to education savings accounts if their parents are unhappy with their BIE school.
If it passes the full U.S. Senate, the Native American Education Opportunity (NAEO) Act would benefit BIE students in four states including Arizona, Nevada, Mississippi and Florida which all have existing state-funded education savings account programs. Since BIE schools are federally funded, tribal children in those states cannot currently access ESAs. NAEO aims to fix that disparity and provide the option to BIE families as well.