U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) applauded the Senate’s adoption of his amendments to the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), a bill that would reduce federal interference in education, and put governors, school boards, parents, and teachers back in charge. Thune’s amendments would require the secretary of education to coordinate with other federal agencies to report on efforts to address youth suicides in Indian Country and expand the use of Project School Emergency Response to Violence (Project SERV) funds to include preventative efforts against youth suicide and other school violence.
“There is no greater tragedy for a family than losing a child, sibling, or friend, especially to suicide,” said Thune. “Sadly, according the Indian Health Service, suicide is the second leading cause of death for Indian youth in Indian Health Service areas, with a death rate four times the national average. While there is a wide range of known factors that contribute to youth suicide, I think it’s important for us to get a better understanding of how we can better address both prevention and response to suicide in Indian Country.”
Thune’s amendment would require, within 90 days from the date of enactment, the secretary of education to coordinate with the secretary of interior and secretary of health and human services to report on a variety of information, including:
- The federal response to the occurrence of high numbers of student suicide in Indian Country
- A list of federal resources available to prevent and respond to student suicide outbreaks, including the availability and use of tele-behavioral health
- Interagency collaboration efforts to streamline access to programs, including information on how the Departments of Education, Interior, and Health and Human Services work together on program administration
- Any existing barriers to timely program implementation or interagency collaboration
- Recommendations to improve or consolidate existing programs or resources
- Tribal feedback to the federal response
The Senate also adopted Thune’s amendment that would expand the authorized use of Project SERV funds to include initiating or strengthening prevention activities in cases of chronic trauma or violence, such as the suicide crisis in Indian Country or gang violence in schools.
Local educational agencies and institutions of higher education seeking approval to initiate or strengthen prevention activities would be required to:
- Demonstrate a continued disruption or a substantial risk of disruption to the learning environment that would be addressed by such activity
- Provide an explanation of proposed activities designed to restore and preserve the learning environment
- Provide a budget and budget narrative
Such requests would be subject to the discretion of the secretary and the availability of funds.
Thune also introduced amendments to ECAA that would exempt K-12 schools and higher education institutions from Obamacare’s employer mandate, allow Tribal Grant Schools to participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefits program, and provide parity for tribal colleges to compete for certain funding sources. These amendments were not adopted during the Senate’s consideration of ECAA.