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SD Senator Urging Bipartisan House Support for Tribal Education

A package of bills aimed at helping South Dakota's Native American students is heading to the House after earning bipartisan support in the Senate. (iStockphoto)
A package of bills aimed at helping South Dakota's Native American students is heading to the House after earning bipartisan support in the Senate. (iStockphoto)
February 8, 2016

PIERRE, S.D. - The educational achievement gap for Native American students is a step closer to becoming history in South Dakota. Late last week, a pair of bills earned bipartisan approval in the state Senate.

One would fund grants to set up three Native American achievement schools, the other would help paraprofessionals working with Native American students to become fully licensed teachers.

The prime sponsor of those bills, Assistant Senate Minority Leader Troy Heinert (D-Mission), is now urging his colleagues in the House to do the same.

"There's been a gap between Native students and non-Native students since we started taking data," says Heinert. "We have about a 50 percent dropout rate in our high schools, and it's been that way for 30 years. That's just unacceptable."

Heinert believes these bills will help tailor the state's education programs to better engage Native American students and cut down on the high turnover rate for teachers at tribal schools.

It's been an uphill battle to get these bills approved. Similar measures have gone nowhere in the past. Heinert gives credit to Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard's executive order creating the Native American student achievement advisory council last year.

"Tribal leaders, Department of Ed, a few legislators, educators - we all came together," says Heinert. "As we really hashed it out, there was some very tense moments in those meetings, but we were able to find some compromise that we think will benefit our kids."

After speaking with the GOP Speaker of the state House Dean Wink, Heinert says both bills, alongside a funding proposal, could be voted on by the House Education committee as soon as this week.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - SD