U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (Hawaii) introduced two amendments aimed at promoting Native language education and improving school facilities, which were adopted by the Senate as part of the Every Child Achieves Act in an 81 to 17 vote last week. One of the amendments authorizes a study of native language immersion schools, which Schatz said would provide critical data to help determine best practices for educating students enrolled in native immersion programs. The other amendment is aimed at improving school facilities.
In advocating for the bill’s passage, Schatz said native languages have the power to strengthen the connection between students, their communities and their cultures. He said the bill would provide the tools needed to improve and expand Native Hawaiian programs in Hawaiʻi.
“The purpose of our federal education policy is to ensure that every child gets a high-quality education. But today, too many schools are in poor condition and lack the modern equipment necessary to keep kids focused and ready to learn,” said Senator Schatz in a press release. “My provision included in the Every Child Achieves Act will help us learn more about the condition of students’ school environments, so that we can make smarter, more effective decisions on school spending.”
Schatz worked closely with the National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs (NCNALSP) to seek an amendment that will help change the way federal education policy is implemented in schools where education is delivered primarily through the medium of a Native American language. NCNALSP director Leslie Harper (Ojibwe) expressed excitement, saying, “We could not have asked for a better champion than Senator Schatz. He has a firm grasp of the issues. This amendment is part of the long process of revitalizing our Native American languages, which face extinction without appropriate educational policies.”
The amendment received strong support from large national organizations like the National Education Association, the National Congress of American Indians and the National Indian Education Association and also numerous tribal, state, and Native community entities as well as individuals from diverse backgrounds. Harper stated that the grassroots support and large organization response has been “both amazing and heartwarming.”