Assistant Minority Leader Senator Troy Heinert
Published February 4, 2016
PIERRE, SOUTH DAKOTA — Two legislative bills that will help stop the growing achievement gap between Native American and non-Native American students have passed the South Dakota State Senate.
The passage of Senate Bills 81 and 82 were welcomed by the state Democratic Party.
Senate Bill 82 establishes the Native American achievement schools grant program to be administered by the Office of Indian Education within the Department of Education. The purpose of the grant program is to fund the establishment of up to three Native American achievement schools aimed at improving academic outcomes for Native American students.
Assistant Minority Leader Senator Troy Heinert (D-26), the prime sponsor of both pieces of legislation and also a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe explained the schools will help preserve a fundamental component of Native American culture— their language.
“When you lose your language, you lose your culture. When you lose your culture, you lose your identity,” Heinert said.
Senate Bill 81 creates a program whereby paraprofessionals working within Native American schools could take steps toward becoming fully licensed teachers under the scholarship program.
Both bills aim to increase efforts to heal cultural issues between Native American and non-Native American students.
Mato Standing High, Director of Indian Education, testifying before the Senate Committee on Education explained the importance of raising awareness between Native and non-Native communities. After relating a story about a Rapid City school administrator that had expressed excitement about learning aspects of South Dakota Native American history, Standing High said, “I thought to myself, imagine if you could have learned that when you were 6 instead of 66, how that could have changed your perspective on relationships, on stereotypes. When we have a better understanding of each other, it’s better for our children. That’s how it’s for all of us.”