Seeking to improve recruiting and retention efforts in the nation’s government-funded tribal schools, U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem and U.S. Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds, each Republicans from South Dakota, have introduced bicameral legislation that would provide educators with federal health and life insurance benefits.

“This legislation makes an important investment in tribal youth by enhancing employee retention efforts and allowing tribal schools to prioritize funding for tangible education items to improve students’ overall learning experience,” said Sen. Thune, chairman of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, who introduced the measure in the U.S. Senate with Sen. Rounds signing on as the original cosponsor.

“We continue to work to ensure students in tribal communities have access to quality education, but meeting that goal comes with challenges,” said Sen. Thune.

The companion bills – the Tribal School Federal Insurance Parity Act, S. 3030 and H.R. 6030 – would allow employees at tribal grant schools to participate in Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB) and Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) programs, according to a summary provided by the South Dakota members.

Tribal grant schools would be allowed to spend less on health care and more on education-specific items by being required to pay the government’s contribution toward the insurance premiums, according to the summary. The tribal grant schools’ employees would be responsible for the remaining balance.

“Our legislation would allow employees at South Dakota’s 19 tribal grant schools to be eligible for federal health insurance programs,” Sen. Rounds said in a joint statement released by the South Dakota contingent.

Under the bill, schools would be able to save thousands of dollars and make long-term employment more attractive at tribal grant schools, “which is an important factor in student success,” he added.
“A good teacher can open the door to opportunity, hope, and upward mobility for students,” agreed Rep. Noem, who noted that “retaining good teachers is a challenge” in many such schools.

“By easing the financial burden on schools, I’m hopeful we can help them retain teachers with enhanced employee benefits while also preserving more resources for the classroom,” Rep. Noem said.

The nation’s tribal schools are operated in three ways: by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Education (BIE); by tribes via federal contracts authorized by the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act; or as tribal grant schools under the federal Tribally Controlled Schools Act. Currently, there are 129 tribal grant schools nationwide, while one school is operated by a tribe with a federal contract and BIE oversees 53 tribal schools.

S. 3030 has been referred to the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee for consideration. H.R. 6030 has been referred to three committees in the U.S. House of Representatives: the Natural Resources; Oversight and Government Reform; and Energy and Commerce committees.

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