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US Rep. Biggs introduces voucher bill for Native American students

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

PHOENIX — An Arizona congressman has introduced a bill that offers vouchers to Native American students to diversify their educational options.

U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs on Tuesday presented the Native American Education Opportunity Act, which would fund students who attend Bureau of Indian Education schools.

The program would give students an $8,000 deposit per year into an educational savings account.

Those funds could be used for cost of attendance at private schools, private online programs, tutoring, transportation and other educational services.

“This bill gives Native American families and their children the freedom to choose alternative educational services other than the ones currently provided by the Bureau of Indian Education,” Biggs, a Republican, said in a press release.

“School choice is critical to the foundation of America’s children, and I am honored to work alongside Indian Country leaders to make this opportunity a reality.”

The bill would establish a five-year pilot program for tribes to create the vouchers.

It is endorsed by Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer, the American Federation for Children, and Republican U.S. Reps Paul Gosar and Debbie Lesko.

“We know school choice works, and we owe it to tribal communities to ensure they have the freedom to also pursue the best possible education opportunities for their children,” Gosar said in the release.

However, state lawmakers representing Navajo Nation have voiced opposition to the bill.

Arizona District 7 Reps. Myron Tsosie and Arlando Teller and Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, all Democrats, issued a press release Thursday noting that Arizona voters recently defeated an attempt to expand school vouchers when they rejected Proposition 305 by a 65%-35% margin in 2018.

“Whether state-funded or federally funded, vouchers are a coordinated effort to siphon support from public schools and inject it into private and parochial schools,” Tsosie said in the release.

“I’m tired of politicians like Biggs and organizations like AFC using indigenous children as pawns as they try to gain more taxpayer dollars to expand their reach. I’m especially disappointed in Vice President Lizer for lending his support to this counterproductive idea.”

Teller called Biggs’ plan “misguided” and said it didn’t have the support to get through Congress.

“As a proud product of public schools, I do not support any more tax dollars going to private schools,” he said. “All the architects of Arizona’s controversial voucher movement – including former [state] Senate President Biggs and the American Federation for Children – are also at work on this proposal.

“Fortunately, Rep. Biggs is in the minority in Congress and I expect this misguided idea will go nowhere fast.”

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