Governor Signs Bill That Gives Underserved School Districts With Large Native American Populations Access To $60 Million

April 8, 2021

What’s Happening

Michelle Lujan Grisham began the week by signing legislation that will deliver extra money to some schools that largely serve Native American students. State and tribal representatives accompanied her for this significant event. They claim that this would help to eliminate decades-old inequities, as well as increase the overall standard of education students receive, as schools have been underfunded for years.

Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said, “The governor’s signature today is a historic milestone for New Mexico.” He added, “This bill removes a systemic inequity in the way we fund New Mexico public schools that has resulted in huge disparities between have and have-not districts.”

The bill is projected to increase federal Impact Aid by $60 million to districts with large quantities of tribal and other tax-exempt property. The state had previously deducted a significant portion of the federal funds from the districts’ funding share, preventing the funds from reaching their intended destination. 

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said the legislation ends “a long-standing practice that was fundamentally unfair, disadvantaging too many Native American students and communities.”

Inequalities in Education for Native American Children

The state of education for Native students in our nations’ schools is distressing. In reading and mathematics, Native students perform two to three grade levels lower than their better-resourced peers. Studies have provided that only seven out of every 100 American Indian kindergarteners will graduate and continue on to higher education.

The effects of poor economic conditions in many tribal communities compound the difficulties faced by families and schools. Low-income households, a lack of electricity, and other factors all contribute to less than ideal educational outcomes.

Addressing the Problem

Although the realities of Native American education are upsetting, it has brought several organizations forward to champion closing the achievement gap. American Indian Services, a non-profit headquartered in Salt Lake City, is one of these organizations.

American Indian Services believes that as we assist Native American students in achieving individual success they will be better equipped to provide support for their communities and have a positive impact on future generations. With this philosophy, American Indian Services provides a free STEAM summer school program for middle schoolers called AIS PREP. 

This educational initiative includes three summers of rigorous academic instruction. The curriculum includes classes in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics. Hands-on projects, challenging homework, science field trips, and daily career awareness lectures keep students engaged as they progress. AIS PREP’s academically demanding STEAM content has been proven to raise test scores and help students prepare for advanced high school courses.

“I love everything here because the classes here are better than the ones at school where we live because everything here is awesome.”

– LaTeyah Stanley, 1st year

To achieve educational excellence and equality for Native students, collaborative efforts are necessary. State officials, tribal leadership, and communities will need to work together to find solutions to support a goal of higher educational achievement for Native American children.  

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