Governor Herbert signed HB43, creating a five-year pilot program to disperse grants to address the needs of Alaskan Natives and Native American students in rural areas in Utah.
These grants would be aimed to assist school districts and charter schools with recruitment, retention and professional development of teachers who teach Alaskan Indians and Native Americans, according to the bill.
Those included in this program are from the fourth, fifth and sixth class counties, which are the most populated Alaskan and Native Americans regions. One of the counties included was San Juan County in the southeastern part of the state.
“This legislation specifically targets the San Juan County Native Americans. San Juan has the highest population of Native Americans of any county in the state,” said Rep. Michael Noel, R-Kanab, in an email.
The pilot program was targeted toward helping Native American students and teachers stay in rural counties, Noel said.
The State Board of Education – State Office of Administrative Education Fund was given $250,000, and the Pilot Teacher Retention Grant Program was given $250,000.
Harold Foster, education specialist from the Utah State Board of Education, said the funds are appropriated to the schools districts, one of them being San Juan School District.
The criteria for distributing these grants is based on the need of the district, the purpose of the grant, the outcome expected and the accountability of the district at the end of the year.
Former education programs affecting Natives
Granite School District, located in central Salt Lake County, has an education program called American Indian Education – Title VI, separate from the schools affected by HB43.
“This program is federally funded and has been for the last 20 years,” said Charlene Lui, director of educational equity at the Granite School District. “Granite, with other Wasatch Front school districts, were not included in the teacher pilot program — the program focused on more rural areas of Utah.”
Granite’s program has a parent committee with a teacher representative. They discuss and rely on parent input to better the native students’ education.
The committee holds a public hearing to discuss the previous grant and spending, then compare that to the projected grant and spending for the current year. Lui said Granite School District has to reapply for the grant every year.
“Through the program, we teach teachers cultural awareness on how to work with the native students,” Lui said. “Mentors from the program work with the student’s teachers to facilitate resources, community resources and to let the students know of upcoming events.”
The government created the Indian Education Act in 1972, which focused on meeting Native American and Alaskan Native educational and cultural needs.
The Office of Indian Education, as part of the U.S. Department of Education, supports “local educational agencies, Indian tribes and organizations, postsecondary institutions and other entities to meet the unique cultural, language and educational needs of such students and ensure that all students meet the challenging state academic standards” according to the U.S. Department of Education website.