Bill to Help Close Native American Education Gap Advances

Senator Kevin Van Tassell (Republican - Vernal)
Senator Kevin Van Tassell (Republican – Vernal)

In 2015, legislation was proposed to assemble a commission that would determine ways to improve education among Utah’s Native American population.

HB 33 – American Indian-Alaskan Native Education Amendments was sponsored by Representative Jack Draxler (Republican – North Logan) and created the American Indian-Alaskan Native Education Commission.

The commission was charged with creating and presenting a plan to address the educational achievement gap of the state’s American Indian and Alaskan Native students.

A bill that came out of the commission was discussed Monday by the House Education Committee. SB 14 – American Indian and Alaskan Native Amendments, which is sponsored by Senator Kevin Van Tassell (Republican – Vernal), received unanimous approval from the committee.

The legislation creates a pilot program to fund stipends, recruitment, retention, and professional development of teachers who teach at American Indian and Alaskan Native schools. In addition, a pilot program that would provide some funding for regional service centers is also established by the bill.

The program is set to run for five years, starting with $20,000 of funding for fiscal year 2016. From 2017 until the bill sunsets in 2021, $2 million would be allocated toward the project. Also required in the bill is the presentation of an annual report to the Native American Legislative Liaison Committee to ensure things are progressing well.

Van Tassell told the committee that one of the main issues facing Native American schools is the high turnover rate among teachers. He is optimistic that HB 33 will help improve the situation. “It allows local input. It creates competition between the individual schools and districts. I believe it will have an experience that hopefully we can add to and increase the graduation [rate],” said Van Tassell.

Draxler pointed out at a hearing for last year’s bill that the Native American student achievement gap is the worst of any ethnic or cultural group. In language arts, Native American students average 20 percent lower than the Utah average while math and scores are even worse: 23 and 29 percent lower than average, respectively.

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