Carlyle Begay: Indian parents and students deserve school choice

American Federation for Children on YouTube: America's Underdogs: Students in Crisis

Arizona State Sen. Carlyle Begay (R), a member of the Navajo Nation, continues to support "school choice" in Indian Country amid criticism of the effort from tribes and Democrats. In April, he testified in support of S.2711, the Native American Education Opportunity Act, a bill that takes money away from Bureau of Indian Education schools and creates a voucher-type program for use at non-BIE institutions. The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs approved the bill at a heated business meeting last week. Begay has more on Indian Country Today about the controversy:
America’s Underdogs features Tenai Tortice, a young White Mountain Apache teen who bravely tells his life story, the adversity he has had to overcome so far, and the bright future he has knowing he is already a voice and leader for his community. Hearing Tenai’s story clearly made Ms. Lee feel uncomfortable. I feel that her heart was in the right place and she was trying to protect Tenai but she unfortunately, in my opinion, missed the purpose of the documentary. The only way to fix a problem is to honestly and fully identify it first. Tenai’s story puts a real face and name to what we are facing: a crisis in tribal education.

Villainizing school choice is not a way to encourage our Native children to achieve a world-quality education. School choice is one way to put more education options on the table for Native families to use if they see their child failing. These are opportunities to have different kinds of schools, schools that resonate with our culture and heritage and are successful in teaching our children. Historically, our communities have had almost none of these K-12 education opportunities, and the majority of tribal communities do not even know what school choice is. We need to listen to our families and to create pathways for Native children to learn on their terms, so they can grow into happy, well-adjusted, successful adults. One big factor is making sure they are getting the education that is right for them and instills pride and self-worth. The documentary tells of the rich history, culture and traditions that many of our youth are fighting to reclaim through their education. There are great examples of this highlighted in America’s Underdogs. Two schools featured on the Navajo Nation, one a charter school and another a private school, are both producing great outcomes with their Native American students.

There is an important difference between “exploiting” our Native students and providing a platform for them to have a voice. Tenai has an important voice and message he shared with us through his participation in America’s Underdogs. I am incredibly proud of him and his tribal leaders for participating in this documentary, for speaking the truth in the hopes of finding solutions. The alternative to creating a voice is to stay silent, continue heading down the same road our tribal communities have been going down for years and get the same results of low graduation rates, hopelessness and high suicide rates.

Read More:
Carlyle W. Begay: Helping Native Kids: School Choice (Indian Country Today 9/14)

Also Today:
Exploiting Native Kids: School Choice (Indian Country Today 8/8)

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Notice:
Business Meeting to consider S. Con. Res. 49, S. 2711 & S. 2959 (September 7, 2016)

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