Features and Occasionals, Minis

Utah’s American Indian education plan: SB 14 needs better funding

By Emma Ryder

One piece of legislation easily stood out in the long list of bills from the 2016 Utah state legislative session. At first glance it seemed rather progressive. Though only a resolution, SB 14 called for state action in “eliminating the achievement gap for American Indian and Alaskan Native students and outlines the need for a state plan.”

Upon reading the bill we concluded that SB 14 needs more work before it can be considered a true agent of change, but it’s still worth a look and maybe a nudge from the public to get some real change underway.

The bill falls short particularly in the area of funding, which is super meager. It calls for $250,000 to be spent as grants over a five-year trial period. That’s asking the state to use $50,000 a year, spread out over multiple school districts. The plan indicates that this funding will be available only to “American Indian concentrated schools” identified as schools with a number of Native students 29% or greater.

The main challenge addressed by the bill is teacher retention and it appears that the extra funds are meant to create a more competitive stipend for recruitment and retention of professionals at these “concentrated” schools. In addition to that, the money is intended to help implement a number of changes recommended by the 2015 American Indian-Alaskan Native Education Commission including: creating culturally relevant curriculum, protecting heritage languages, building administrative support for Native students, strengthening tribal support of initiatives, and building statewide collaborations to address specific student needs.

Sounds good; now, let’s fund it properly so that the SB 14 pilot succeeds.

—Emma Ryder

This article was originally published on November 3, 2016.