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Senators Lankford, Heitkamp, Daines Introduce Bill to Provide Educational Opportunities for Native Students

WASHINGTON, DC – Senators James Lankford (R-OK), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), and Steve Daines (R-MT) today introduced the Johnson O’Malley Supplemental Indian Education Program Modernization Act, a bipartisan bill to update decades-old data the federal government uses to distribute funds to benefit Native American students.
Although the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ (BIA) last official count of eligible Native students took place more than two decades ago, the federal government still relies on this severely outdated data to determine federal funding needs and distribution for the Johnson-O’Malley (JOM) program—a federal cultural educational support program that works to boost academic achievement among underserved students in Native populations. By requiring the federal government to accurately count all Native students who could be served under the program, the Johnson O’Malley Supplemental Indian Education Program Modernization Act would work to change that, helping close gaps in access to programs that can help Native students improve academically.
“It is the tragic reality that American Indian students in some parts of the country must overcome many hardships as they seek a quality education,” said Lankford. “The Johnson O’Malley program provides cultural and academic assistance to those students and helps open the door to a brighter tomorrow. This legislation corrects a twenty-year-old problem and ensures the program operates with an accurate count of Indian students attending public schools.”
“Native students are among America’s most underserved youth, and for years the federal government has been neglecting its duty to help them access learning opportunities that can help them thrive,” said Heitkamp. “By updating decades old data, the federal government uses to determine federal funding for critical cultural and educational support for Native students, Senator Lankford and I are working to prevent Native children from falling through the cracks. We need strong bipartisan solution like this bill to build access to critical learning programs Native students need to succeed, and to build opportunities that make sure no Native child is forgotten.”
Lankford, Heitkamp, and Daines’s bill would call on the US Department of the Interior to update its severely outdated count of Native students in a timely manner by using existing public information from the US Census Bureau and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to show underserved students who are potentially eligible under the program. This data is crucial to ensure Native students in public schools can access the cultural and educational investments critical to their success.
During a time when Native students graduate from high school at a rate that is lower than any other racial or ethnic demographic in the country, Lankford, Heitkamp, and Daines are working to make sure that the cultural programs in public schools that are linked to boosting Native students’ morale, as well as academic performance and attendance, are readily available in classrooms. Despite the stark need for such programs, the last official count in 1995 by BIA, identified 271,884 Native students eligible for such resources. Since that time, the BIA has attempted to officially verify Native students eligible for the program without success, while the National Congress of American Indians has recently indicated a large gap in access to these programs with a marked increase of more than 500,000 Native young people nationwide in 2010 that could be eligible for JOM cultural resources.
Lankford serves on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. This bill was introduced during last Congress, but did not receive a vote in the Senate.