Senator John Thune
Nearly eight years after No Child Left Behind expired, I am glad Congress has finally passed legislation to reauthorize federal K-12 educational programs. The Every Child Achieves Act would reduce federal interference in education and restore control of education to the people who know their students best – parents, teachers, and school boards. Local control, not big-government Washington mandates, is the key to educational success for students around the country.
I introduced several amendments to this important legislation and was pleased that two measures related to the youth suicide crisis in Indian Country were included in the final bill.
There is no greater tragedy for a family than losing a child, sibling, or friend, especially to suicide. According to the Indian Health Service, suicide is the second leading cause of death for Native American youth in Indian Health Service areas, with a death rate four times the national average. I think it is important for us to get a better understanding of how we can address suicide prevention within our tribal communities, and this legislation was the appropriate vehicle for me to attach these amendments.
My first amendment would require federal agencies to report on efforts to address youth suicide on our reservations. The heads of relevant federal government agencies, like the Departments of Education, Interior, and Health and Human Services, would coordinate in this effort. My goal for these agencies would be to learn more about the current federal response to the high numbers of youth suicide in Indian Country, determine what types of federal resources are available to prevent and respond to these types of crises, and whether or not there are any barriers to program implementation. Tribal feedback on all of this information will be key.
My second measure would expand the use of Project School Emergency Response to Violence (Project SERV) funds to include initiating or strengthening prevention activities in cases of trauma or violence, similar to what is happening in Indian Country. Under current law, Project SERV funds can only be used to respond to crises.
My colleagues in the Senate understood the importance of these amendments, which is why both were unanimously approved. My hope is that by taking these important steps, we can shine a light on the crisis that is impacting so many of our families in South Dakota and do everything within our power to prevent tragedies like these from happening in the future.