U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) today introduced Senate and House companion bills that would allow tribal grant schools to participate in Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB) and Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) programs. This change would free up resources to improve recruiting and retention efforts for professional educators in rural communities by allowing schools to spend less on health care and more on education-specific items. The grant schools would be required to pay the government’s contribution toward the insurance premiums, and the employees would be responsible for the remaining balance.

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

“Our legislation would allow employees at South Dakota’s 19 tribal grant schools to be eligible for federal health insurance programs,” said Rounds. “Under this bill, the schools would be required to pay the government’s contribution toward insurance premiums, and the employee would pay the remaining balance. This will save the schools thousands of dollars and improve teacher and administrator retention rates at tribal grant schools, which is an important factor in student success.”

“A good teacher can open the door to opportunity, hope, and upward mobility for students,” said Noem. “In many tribal communities, however, retaining good teachers is a challenge. 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.”

Currently, tribal schools are operated either directly by the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE); by tribes, through Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (P.L. 93-638) contracts; or through Tribally Controlled Schools Act (P.L. 100-297) grants, which are known as tribal grant schools. Currently, 129 schools nationwide operate as tribal grant schools, including 19 in South Dakota, while only one school operates through a 638 contract. BIE operates 53 tribal schools across the nation.

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