The Corner

McCain’s Bill Would Provide School Choice for American Indians

Jay’s in-depth analysis of Naomi Schaefer Riley’s new book, The New Trail of Tears: How Washington Is Destroying American Indians, highlighted both the deplorable conditions in which many American Indians live, and the role that the government has played in making matters worse. One of the worst parts of that government is the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), a crumbling federal department whose schools boast some of the worst student outcomes in the nation. A bill introduced by Senator John McCain — and scheduled to be voted on today — seeks to do something about that. McCain’s initiative, which also has the backing of Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, would allow Native American children to escape BIE schools for private, charter, or online schools. The Washington Free Beacon reports:

Eligible Native American students would be able to transfer 90 percent of their share of federal funding into an education savings account. In order for a student to use federal funding in a state education savings account program, the student must be eligible for an account under state program rules.

Providing educational freedom for students stuck in underperforming schools ought to be a priority all over the nation. But it is especially vital for students stuck in the cycle of dependence that has oppressed American-Indian children for generations. As Jay noted in his column, poor schooling is central to the harrowing picture painted in Riley’s book.

McCain is taking the right lessons from Arizona’s school reforms that have expanded opportunity for students otherwise trapped in terrible school districts. The solution is usually a ticket out of these underperforming, often dangerous schools. Meaningful school reform simply has not materialized from doing what the BIE does, which is pouring more money into already failing school systems.

Education savings accounts, on the other hand, open up a range of new options for students to attend private schools, privately run charter schools, or even enter a public school that better suits their needs. Failing public schools hobble along because lower-income families have no other options, but letting those families take their share of education funding to a different school breaks up a bad school’s monopoly. Competing for students thus gives public schools what they have lacked for too long: incentive to improve.

There’s no reason that American-Indian kids should be kept away from the blessings of a good education, but improving their situation will require honest recognition that centralized government control has contributed to the problem they currently face.

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