Washington, D.C. - Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) along with Representative Scott Tipton (CO-03) today introduced the Native American Indian Education Act, legislation that would provide relief to state education budgets and protect tuition-free higher education for Native Americans. States like Colorado facing severe budget constraints are struggling to fulfill the requirement to provide tuition-free higher education opportunities for Native American Indian students because the cost of funding their education is not shared by the students' home-states. Instead, the state that houses the educational institution is solely responsible for the students' tuition bill.
The Native American Indian Education Act addresses existing federal-state agreements that require states to finance Native American's tuition at certain universities in perpetuity through a tuition waiver program. One such agreement, at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, covered just a few dozen students when it was originally struck in 1910. Today, over 1,123 American Indian and Alaska native students from over 162 tribes nationwide attend Fort Lewis College, and the state of Colorado is bearing much of the cost of tuition waivers and other expenses, which exceed approximately $16 million per year.
This legislation preserves tuition-free higher education for Native American Indian students by updating the tuition wavier program to reflect the current day reality of educational costs and make the federal-state arrangement as equitable as it was originally intended. It also directs the Department of Education to cover the tuition of out-of-state students so that that the cost of educating Native American and Alaska natives from across the country does not fall solely on individual states. The federal government can continue to live up to its commitment to provide educational opportunities to Native American Indian students.
"Education is a fundamental promise to all Americans," Bennet said. "In our changing economy, we must ensure everyone has access to higher education. This program is crucial for Native American students who otherwise may not be able to afford college. This bill would make it financially viable for schools, like Fort Lewis College in Colorado, to continue to provide waivers that make these opportunities possible."
"Colorado's Fort Lewis College and higher education institutions across the country provide world-class educations to both Native and non-Native students," Gardner said. "States facing difficult fiscal environments, however, are struggling to foot the tuition bill for out-of-state Native American Indian students to whom the federal government promised tuition-free higher education nearly a century ago. The Native American Indian Education Act ensures that the federal government continues to live up to its commitment and extends much-needed budgetary relief to states like Colorado. I'm proud to work with Senator Bennet and Representative Tipton on this commonsense, bipartisan solution that makes Native American education a national priority."
"It is vital that the federal government fully live up to our nation's treaty obligations with Native American Indians," Tipton said. "For years, the weight of an unfunded federal mandate to provide higher education opportunities for Native American Indian students has created uncertainty for the Native American Tuition Waiver Programs at Fort Lewis College. This has put a constantly-increasing strain on the state of Colorado's budget. Our legislation addresses this issue by authorizing the federal government to allocate funds to meet its treaty obligations and ensure that many talented and bright Native American Indian students have the opportunity to get a quality education."