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.