A new law that requires school districts to ask students about tribal affiliations puts in place procedures that have proven to be an effective way to improve services to students and accountability to the state's 39 sovereign nations.
House Bill 1104 makes student participation voluntary. The information provided, however, will help ensure a more efficient disbursement of all federal funds available to school districts for American Indian education programs.
Oklahoma reported 403 Title VI Indian Education programs in fiscal year 2019 at public schools statewide. Those programs served more than 130,000 Native American students.
Education Northwest, a nonprofit organization that researches, evaluates and provides technical assistance with the goal of transforming teaching and learning, found accurate enrollment data for Native America students is critically important. Accurate enrollment information is "necessary to ensure treaty obligations are fulfilled, programs designed to meet the needs of Native students are appropriately funded," and students' performance "can be reliably tracked."
The nonprofit notes Native Americans make up "the only group in the country that must prove ... race or ethnicity through membership or descendancy" to be eligible for "designated federal services and funding." If no attempt is made by public schools to collect that data, the risk of loss or diversion of federal services and funds becomes too great.
We agree the provision of this information to schools should remain voluntary for students and their families. But we hope there is a recognition that participation will provide funds intended to provide "culturally appropriate and multi-disciplinary educational" programs and "facilitate cross-agency tribal collaboration and consultation frameworks" intended to "strengthen local dialogue and restore broken systematic relationships."
Funding for those programs will flow to other states if Oklahoma cannot claim it. Improving the accuracy of Native American enrollment in our public schools makes sense.