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Native American Charter School Struggles for Approval

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By State Library and Archives of Florida [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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April 23, 2018; The Oklahoman (NewsOK)
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An attempt to found a charter school in Oklahoma has been turned down for a second time by the Oklahoma City School Board. It now heads to the state board of education.

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The proposed Sovereign Community School has been inspired by the Native American Community Academy (NACA) in New Mexico. NACA runs six schools devoted to Native students that incorporate their language, culture, and history into traditional curriculums. According to the Hechinger Report, NACA schools outperform many regular, nonnative schools, with 90 percent of the 2016 graduating class being accepted to college. The Oklahoma Gazette reports that “traditionally in the United States, Native American students as a group have the highest high school dropout rate and the lowest college enrollment rate in the country.”

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2014 Native Youth Report from the Executive Office of the President “repudiated federal policies regarding the education of Indian children are among those with a devastating and continuing effect on Native peoples…Education was at the center of many harmful policies because of its nexus with social and cultural knowledge. Education was—and remains—a critical vehicle for impacting the lives of Native youth for better or worse.”

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The Bureau of Indian Education runs its own schools, but graduation rates from BIE schools (53 percent) are lower even than those of Native students at traditional schools (67 percent), and far below the national average (80 percent). Another 2014 report, this one from the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, showed that Native children are suspended and expelled at higher rates than white children. These are the kinds of statistics that NACA and SCS aim to change. In addition, as Linda J. Ellwood pointed out for Indian Country Today, “78 percent of Native Americans live outside of reservations with 70 percent living in urban areas,” making charter networks outside reservations a crucial resource.

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Award-winning author Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz said that “absorbing racist and dehumanizing ideas about fellow classmates also diminishes the understanding and compassion of non-Native children, warping their conception of a history that often erases Native Americans altogether.” A charter network such as SCS proposes, which incorporates Native history and literature but welcomes children of any background, might combat this misconception.

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Gover’s school is tied to the New Mexican NACA network, which has been successfully expanding since 2006. He spent three years gathering community input from the community to draft the SCS proposal.

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“We are really frustrated that we couldn’t come to an agreement with the district…but it never felt like the district wanted to find that common ground,” he said.

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The state education board could review the charter’s application as early as June.—Erin Rubin