There are about 644,000 Native American students in the country, and they suffer some of the nation's worst schools. Four in ten won't graduate from high school and only one in five are proficient in math. Native American students lag far behind their peers in the traditional public schools.
The sad state of Native American education is chronicled in a 10-minute mini-documentary released Monday by the pro-school choice group American Federation for Children, entitled "America's Underdogs: Students in Crisis."
One of the underdogs is Tenai Tortice, a 14-year-old Native American living in Arizona. "Kids are killing themselves, you know, because they have no opportunity," Tortice says in the film, describing the depressing reality of Native American life. Native Americans are far more likely to commit suicide than any other ethnicity.
Part of the issue is dilapidated facilities. With Arizona State Sen. Carlyle Begay, a Republican, the filmmakers visit the Little Singer Community School on a Navajo Nation reservation. A teacher tells them they have to mobilize buckets every time it rains because the ceiling leaks.
The school is one of 185 schools run by the Bureau of Indian Education. The bureau falls under federal control, so Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is trying to do something about it. "The Indian schools are arguably the absolute worst of any part of our nation," McCain says "When we relegated our Native Americans, our original citizens, to reservations, we made certain promises. And one of those promises was a quality education. They have not received it."
McCain introduced a bill that would allow Native American families to use their BIE funding on a variety of educational needs: private school tuition, tutors, books, etc. The funds would go into what's called an educational savings account, with 90 percent of their BIE funds put into the account and 10 percent retained by the BIE.
As the film closes, it gives an update on the "underdog" it introduced at the start. "As for Tenai Tortice, he had to leave the reservation to pursue his dream. He now attends a college prep school in Phoenix. He wants to be the president someday."
Jason Russell is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.