Tribal education gets an injection of cash from the $2 billion March 2021 COVID stimulus plan, only a few months late.

Announced on Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education, $20 million in grants are going to be given out of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) for Native American students. The American Indian Resilience in Education (AIRE) grant program was part of the stimulus plan when it was passed, but how much and how it would be distributed were both ambiguous.

“The Department of Education is committed to advancing equity and excellence for Native American students,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in the DoE’s press release. “The ARP AIRE funds will be critical in helping Tribal Educational Agencies bring students back to engaging and culturally responsive in-person learning. These resources will support the efforts of Tribal leaders to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for Native children and youth; honor Tribal traditions, cultures and languages; and elevate the deep reserves of knowledge and expertise in these communities.”

The $20 million in funds will be divided between 15 Tribal Educational Agencies, which will be further distributing it as needed.

Native American youth and schools have educational needs that may not be shared by other schools, which these funds are meant to help address. Things like tribal history and contemporary cultural connections require addressing. There are also special needs involving health care, social work, addiction, custody, legal, and mental health needs.

Perhaps most important are the funds going to tribal education retention. Just under 65 of Native American youth graduate high school, compared to 75 percent in the general population, and fewer than 10 percent earn a college degree, less than half the general rate. Preference for the grant funds will be given to programs designed to assist children and youth to enter, stay in, or re-enter school at any level.

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