U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) applauded the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives for passing their legislation that will allow tribal grant schools to participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefits and Federal Employees Group Life Insurance programs and cover at least the employer’s share of the premiums. This change will 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 was included in the broader COVID-19 relief and government funding package, which was signed into law earlier this week.
“As the son of two educators, I understand how critical it is to have adequate resources available to schools and how it can have a positive effect on their success,” said Thune. “I’m glad that our bill to ensure tribal grant schools can participate in federal health insurance programs is now law and that these schools will soon be able spend more of their money on our top priority – the students.”
“Our legislation will enhance teacher benefits at South Dakota’s 19 tribal grant schools 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 to the students in the classroom. It’s a commonsense law that benefits everyone.”
“Tribal schools have enough challenges without having to deal with unnecessary red tape,” said Johnson. “Ensuring this fix is made has been a longtime coming, and I’m grateful to Cecelia Fire Thunder for working for years to get this done. The Tribal School Federal Insurance Parity Act provides a simple fix that allows funding to flow directly to the students instead of healthcare costs.”
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.