By Sen. Carlyle Begay

Senator Carlyle Begay

WATCH “America’s Underdogs” documentary promo which sheds light on the dire situation of the most critically under-educated kids in the nation. It’s one of the most important conversations we need to have and it is woefully overdue. How do we educate these students and stop the hopelessness?” TEXT “Native Kids” to 52886 to get involved.

I recently spoke to a high school class within a tribal community in Arizona. I will never forget the response of a student when I asked, “What are your goals and aspirations in your life? What are your plans after high school?”
One student said, “Why does it matter? Why do you care? No one cares about me or my people so what does it matter what I want to do or what I end up doing?”
As disheartening as it is, he represents perhaps the feelings of many of our Native American children living on reservations. He feels invisible, unimportant and alienated. This teen carries the burden of hopelessness so common in modern day reservation life.
That exchange forced me to take a deeper look at how we can better educate our Native American kids. The sad reality is that in Arizona, we as Native people are dead last in both math and reading proficiency scores according to the latest Annual Report on Indian Education released by the Arizona Department of Education.
Across America, we have the lowest graduation rate of all other ethnicities at 67 percent. Arizona fairs even worse with a graduation rate of 64 percent, the lowest in the state. These statistics make one thing clear – at least in the area of education, the Federal Government has failed to live up to its responsibilities to Indian children.
This is why I was inspired to help expand school choice on tribal lands and offer new educational options to our students. Empowering tribal parents’ with the ability to customize their child’s education or obtain access to new quality options is one way to build up Native American communities through education.
I encourage all Native American parents, educators and tribal leaders across the nation to begin shaping our own future on our terms. We are in a time where we can raise our children to find their passion be a doctor, an engineer, a lawyer or the next Navajo Code Talkers. In order to do this, we need to draw in the nation’s best schools, cutting-edge schools, schools that incorporate our culture and languages, schools who employ the best teachers and the best administrators.
No stone should be left unturned in our efforts to improve educational outcomes so that our kids are prepared for whatever they choose next in life.
Last year a new school choice law went into effect in Arizona opening up the Empowerment Scholarship Account program universally to Native American families living on any of the state’s 22 reservations. We had so much interest, we fast tracked the bill implementation and hundreds of families applied within a matter of weeks. Unfortunately, some of the families who applied but couldn’t enter the program were turned down because their children are in BIE funded schools. Why should this opportunity be limited to families attending state public schools and not be afforded to those attending federally funded schools? Sen. McCain understood the plight of these BIE families and immediately offered to fight for them.
The availability of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts gives the power to the parents so that they can choose the education that best fits their child. The Native American Education Opportunity Act would give students living within Arizona’s tribal communities and three other states in the United States attending federally funded Bureau of Indian Education schools the option to take their child out of that school if they are not doing well there. They then can use any of the ESA choices available to them including private school, online curriculum, tutors, home school and other education opportunities. This allows that family to fit the education around their child and not force-fit the child into the education.
I recently spoke to a high school class within a tribal community in Arizona. I will never forget the response of a student when I asked, “What are your goals and aspirations in your life? What are your plans after high school?”
One student said, “Why does it matter? Why do you care? No one cares about me or my people so what does it matter what I want to do or what I end up doing?”
As disheartening as it is, he represents perhaps the feelings of many of our Native American children living on reservations. He feels invisible, unimportant and alienated. This teen carries the burden of hopelessness so common in modern day reservation life.
That exchange forced me to take a deeper look at how we can better educate our Native American kids. The sad reality is that in Arizona, we as Native people are dead last in both math and reading proficiency scores according to the latest Annual Report on Indian Education released by the Arizona Department of Education.
Across America, we have the lowest graduation rate of all other ethnicities at 67 percent. Arizona fairs even worse with a graduation rate of 64 percent, the lowest in the state. These statistics make one thing clear – at least in the area of education, the Federal Government has failed to live up to its responsibilities to Indian children.
This is why I was inspired to help expand school choice on tribal lands and offer new educational options to our students. Empowering tribal parents’ with the ability to customize their child’s education or obtain access to new quality options is one way to build up Native American communities through education.
I encourage all Native American parents, educators and tribal leaders across the nation to begin shaping our own future on our terms. We are in a time where we can raise our children to find their passion be a doctor, an engineer, a lawyer or the next Navajo Code Talkers. In order to do this, we need to draw in the nation’s best schools, cutting-edge schools, schools that incorporate our culture and languages, schools who employ the best teachers and the best administrators.
No stone should be left unturned in our efforts to improve educational outcomes so that our kids are prepared for whatever they choose next in life.
Last year a new school choice law went into effect in Arizona opening up the Empowerment Scholarship Account program universally to Native American families living on any of the state’s 22 reservations. We had so much interest, we fast tracked the bill implementation and hundreds of families applied within a matter of weeks. Unfortunately, some of the families who applied but couldn’t enter the program were turned down because their children are in BIE funded schools. Why should this opportunity be limited to families attending state public schools and not be afforded to those attending federally funded schools? Sen. McCain understood the plight of these BIE families and immediately offered to fight for them.
The availability of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts gives the power to the parents so that they can choose the education that best fits their child. The Native American Education Opportunity Act would give students living within Arizona’s tribal communities and three other states in the United States attending federally funded Bureau of Indian Education schools the option to take their child out of that school if they are not doing well there. They then can use any of the ESA choices available to them including private school, online curriculum, tutors, home school and other education opportunities. This allows that family to fit the education around their child and not force-fit the child into the education.

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