President Obama and the Native American Community

Improving Education for American Indians and Alaska Natives

Today, the Obama Administration announced nearly $2 million in competitive grants to Tribal Education Agencies (TEAs) under the State-Tribal Education Partnership – or STEP – program.  During the Department of Education’s 2010 regional tribal consultations, tribal officials consistently expressed concerns about the lack of opportunities for Tribes to meaningfully participate in the education of their own children. The STEP Program is, in part, a response to those concerns, and provides funding intended to elevate the role of Tribal Education Agencies in providing a complete and competitive education to Native American students – in tribal schools as well as in public schools. 

Under the STEP Program, for the first time ever, the Department is  awarding competitive grants to foster greater involvement of Tribal Education Agencies in the education of American Indian and Alaska Native  (AI/AN) students attending public schools. The great majority, some 92 percent, of American Indian and Alaska Native students attend public schools that fall under the jurisdiction of pertinent State and local educational authorities. The STEP Program will provide several Tribes with opportunities to meaningfully participate in the education of their children through increased formal collaboration with States. 

STEP grantees will implement collaborative agreements, entered into by Tribal Education Agencies and State Educational Agencies (SEAs).  Under the agreements, the tribal agencies will perform certain functions –normally administered by the State agencies rather than by Tribal authorities - under State-administered ESEA formula grant programs for schools located on reservations (or former reservations in Oklahoma).  STEP grantees will work collaboratively with Tribal leaders, teachers, and parents to identify and address the needs of their children. 

This kind of collaboration between Tribes and States marks a new era in working together to meet the unique educational and cultural needs of American Indian and Alaska Native students, to improve their academic achievement, and ultimately to better the future of these Tribal students and their communities.

The grantees are:

  • Nez Perce Tribe, Idaho
  • The Navajo Nation Diné Department of Education, New Mexico
  • The Chickasaw Nation, Oklahoma
  • Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation, Oregon

President Obama is committed to working with tribes to identify and develop initiatives, like the STEP program, that will spur greater economic growth on reservations and work towards a bright future for all Native American communities. For the States and Tribes receiving grants today, the STEP Program is an important marker in collaboration and shared responsibility to promote educational excellence for all American Indian and Alaska Native students.

For more information on the STEP pilot program, please visit:

Jodi Gillette is Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs and Roberto Rodriguez is Special Assistant to the President for Education.

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