U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) this week applauded the Senate for passing their legislation 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. The bill now heads to the House for its consideration.
“Oftentimes schools have to make tough decisions on how to allocate their resources, including how they will pay for health and life insurance benefits for their employees,” said Thune. “By freeing up funding that is typically spent on high-cost health insurance, tribal grant schools can focus on the overall education experience for the students and retain quality educators.”
“By allowing employees at South Dakota’s 19 tribal grant schools to be eligible for federal health insurance programs, our legislation will enhance teacher benefits and, at the same time, save the schools thousands of dollars annually,” said Rounds. “This will not only help improve teacher and administrator retention rates at tribal grant schools, it will allow these schools to redirect resources for the classroom. It’s a commonsense bill that benefits everyone.”
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. As of December 2018, 128 schools nationwide operate as tribal grant schools, including nearly 20 in South Dakota, and three schools operate through an ISDEA contract. BIE operates 52 tribal schools across the nation.
U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) introduced the House companion legislation. Thune, Rounds, and then-U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) first introduced this legislation in the 115th Congress.