With September in full swing, students across the state are back in the classroom to begin a new school year. Making sure our kids receive a top-notch education is important to me as a former governor and state legislator, current U.S. Senator and most importantly, a grandfather to eight. The young people learning, growing and thriving in our schools today will be our next generation of engineers, economists, lawyers, doctors, business owners and community leaders. A strong education system will help secure a prosperous future for our children, our communities, our country and our world.
For the first time in years, Congress came together to strengthen education in America. For too long, our education system has been burdened by sweeping federal mandates and a failure by previous congresses and the administration to implement any new, comprehensive education reforms. This year, however, the Senate passed the bipartisan Every Child Achieves Act, or ECAA. The ECAA is a complete overhaul of our education system that will bring decision-making abilities back to the state and local level. Parents, teachers and school boards will have the flexibility to implement strategies based on the individual needs of their students, not be burdened with one-size-fits-all federal mandates. The House of Representatives also passed an education reform bill this summer, and the two bills will now go to conference committee to reconcile the two bills before heading to the President’s desk.
While the ECAA is an immense improvement to our education system as a whole, we must do more to make certain all groups and demographics of children are properly cared for under our education system. That is why I am working to improve education among Native American students. High school graduation rates in South Dakota remains steady at approximately 83 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Unfortunately, for tribal schools in our state and across the country, the graduation rate is as low as 40 percent – half the national average. This is unacceptable.
Native American students—just like all students—deserve a strong education system that prepares them to have a strong and prosperous future. A deficit-neutral amendment I offered was included to the ECAA to address these low graduation rates. The amendment seeks to identify federal barriers restricting tribes from implementing common-sense regional policies and seeks to find ways to recruit and retain teachers and administrators in Indian Country.
With the 2015-2016 school year underway, I would like to thank all the teachers and school administrators who work tirelessly to educate and shape the young minds of tomorrow. South Dakota is fortunate to have top-notch teachers committed to delivering a strong, quality education to our youth. I will continue to find ways to support and strengthen our education system for South Dakota students and eliminate burdensome federal mandates. Future generations will have their own set of challenges and opportunities; a strong education system makes certain they are prepared to meet them.