U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) today introduced Senate and House companion bills that would allow tribal grant schools to participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) and Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) programs. This change would free up resources to improve recruiting and retention efforts for professional educators in tribal communities by allowing schools to spend less on health insurance and more on education-specific items.
“All students deserve access to high-quality education, including students who attend tribal grant schools in South Dakota and around the country,” said Thune. “By freeing up funding otherwise used on high-cost health insurance, this legislation will help schools prioritize resources to enhance students’ overall educational experience and better prepare them for the future.”
“By allowing tribal grant schools to be eligible for federal health insurance programs, these schools would save thousands of dollars each year,” said Rounds. “This would allow them to redirect those resources toward improving teacher and administrator retention rates – an important factor in student success.”
“The children and teachers at tribal grant schools should not have to foot the bill because of an oversight in previous legislation,” said Johnson. “This bill will allow tribal grant schools to provide affordable benefits to their employees, providing much needed funds for our tribal schools and students in South Dakota.”
Currently, tribal schools are operated either directly by the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE); by tribes, through Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance (ISDEA) Act contracts; or through Tribally Controlled Schools Act grants, which help support tribal grant schools. Currently, 128 schools nationwide operate as tribal grant schools, including nearly 20 in South Dakota, and three schools currently operate through an ISDEA contract. BIE operates 52 tribal schools across the nation.
Thune, Rounds, and then-U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) first introduced this legislation in the 115th Congress.