New law fixes benefits oversight for tribal schools

Thune, Rounds, and Johnson all pushed for passage.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Legislation backed by all three members of South Dakota’s congressional delegation that helps tribal schools is now law.

Until the Tribal School Federal Insurance Parity Act became law, employees at only two of the three different types of schools in Indian Country had access to federal health and group life insurance.

Lakota2There are currently three different types of tribal schools: those operated directly by the Federal government’s Bureau of Indian Education; those operated by tribes through Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance (ISDEA) Act contracts; and those operated through Tribally Controlled Schools Act grants, which help support tribal grant schools.

Through a mistake in the language of the original law, employees at tribal grant school did not have access to the Federal Employees Health Benefits and Federal Employees Group Life Insurance programs. The new law also allows the Federal government to cover at least the employers’ share of premiums.

Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds, and Congressman Dusty Johnson all say the new law means money that was being spent on benefits can now be spent on students.

“As the son of two educators, I understand how critical it is to have adequate resources available to schools and how it can have a positive effect on their success,” said Sen. Thune. “I’m glad that our bill to ensure tribal grant schools can participate in federal health insurance programs is now law and that these schools will soon be able to spend more of their money on our top priority – the students.”

Sen. Rounds said, “Our legislation will enhance teacher benefits at South Dakota’s 19 tribal grant schools and, at the same time, save the schools thousands of dollars annually. This will not only help improve teacher and administrator retention rates at tribal grant schools, it will allow these schools to redirect resources to the students in the classroom. It’s a commonsense law that benefits everyone.”

“We’ve had tribal schools out there that have not been treated fairly by the federal government for the last 10 years,” said Johnson. “This change is going to mean that those dollars can instead be used in the classroom to improve the educational opportunities for native students.”

Sen. Rounds also noted that the improved benefits should help with teacher and administrator retention.

The measure was included in the COVID-19 relief and government funding bill that President Trump signed into law.


Categories: Local News, South Dakota News