U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) applauded the Senate’s adoption of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) conference report, which will reduce federal interference in education and put governors, school boards, parents, and teachers back in charge. Following his November 2015 letter to ESSA conference leaders, two Thune-led provisions to address tribal youth suicide, unanimously adopted earlier this year as part of the Senate’s consideration of the Every Child Achieves Act, were included in the conference report. The House of Representatives approved the conference report on December 2, 2015, and it now heads to the president for his signature.
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. Schools on Pine Ridge Reservations have been recipients of Project SERV grant funds, and this amendment would allow all grantees more flexibility in creating prevention programs.
“I have made it a priority to do as much as I can to help address the tribal youth suicide crisis in South Dakota’s Indian Country,” said Thune. “Losing a friend or family member to suicide is a tragedy, and while there are numerous known factors that contribute to suicide – particularly youth suicide – we can and should do more to understand the problem and find constructive ways to prevent it from happening in the first place. Congress recognizes this importance, which is why I was glad to see such strong, bipartisan support for these measures.”
Thune’s first amendment would require 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
Thune’s second amendment 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.