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Native American Education Bill Moves to House Floor

Whittney Evans
Republican Representative Jack Draxler poses for a photo with Native American education stakeholders after passing Senate Bill 14 on Monday.

A bill that gives teachers more money to work in regions of the state where there are a lot of Native American students is headed to the Utah House Floor. It already passed the full Senate.

In the 2015 legislative session, Utah lawmakers created a commission to spend a year studying why Utah’s Native American students are performing worse than other groups in the state. Republican Representative Jack Draxler says a major finding of that commission was schools on or near reservations have high teacher turnover rates.

“And typically they don’t have a lot of Native American teachers,” Draxler says. “And yet Native American teachers are the ones who are most likely to come there and teach and stay and really be role models for Indian kids and make a real difference.”

This year, Senate Bill 14, co-sponsored by Representative Draxler sets up a five-year pilot program, with a $2 million dollar price tag that gives salary bonuses to teachers who choose to work in schools with large native populations. He hopes it will also incentivize Native American students studying to become teachers to go to work on the reservation.

To compete for the money, districts will have to submit plans to improve student outcomes. Tommy Lewis is the superintendent of schools for the Navajo Nation. He says the money would be useful for providing teachers and administrators training to better understand native communities and culture.

“What is this Indian child all about?” Lewis says. “What is he bringing to this school? How can the other ethnic population learn from this child because this child is special and unique? This child has indigenous roots to this state here.”

Only schools which have populations of least 29 percent native qualify for the pilot. Districts would determine what the salary bonuses would be. 

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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