Approximately 90% of all American Indian and Alaska Native students attend regular public schools and about 8% attend schools administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, according to the National Indian Education Association.

Native scholars, educators, and advocacy organizations agree that academic performance should not be the primary indicator of success for Native students. These experts also consider emotional, intellectual, physical, familial, mental, environmental, spiritual, and relational learning just as important for the individual and the community. This acknowledgment of the fully human aspect acknowledges the need for harmonizing the child with their culture and community. Ideally, Native nation-state collaborations can enhance culturally responsive out-of-school programming and community-based services for children and youth.

Specifically, Native nations, states, and local governments should be able to use fiscal data to accurately assess the out-of-school and community-based programs and services available to American Indian and Alaska Native children and youth. By tracking the resources available to Native children and youth living outside of Native nation-controlled areas, states and local governments can better understand the full range of opportunities for children who are citizens of a Native nation and residents of their state. Also, tracking funding available to urban tribal organizations can result in better collaboration between governmental and nongovernmental organizations designed to prepare Native children and youth for K-12 education, higher education, work, and life. This can help ensure that well-rounded funding complies with the stated needs of Native nations to have a holistic approach to teaching and raising Native children and youth.

Due to poor outcomes for many Native children, states are becoming aware of the need to include feedback from Native nations about supporting Native children and youth. National statistics on Native youth show that suicide is the second leading cause of death for American Indian and Alaska Native youth in the 15 to 24 age group. Meanwhile, American Indian and Alaska Native youth are arrested at a rate three times the national average for youth arrests, and the juvenile population of federal prisons historically has consisted predominantly of Native American males.

Additionally, American Indian and Alaska Native children have the third highest rate of child maltreatment victimization at 11.6 per 1,000 children of the same race or ethnicity. Studies show that programs such as early care and education and after-school and summer experiences can improve life outcomes. But an analysis of existing funding streams that support Native children specifically within their schools and communities is lacking. Furthermore, state and local plans that estimate the true cost of raising the educational and life outcomes for Native children with those of non-Native peers are also missing. Without this critical information, gaps between the current and hoped for educational and life achievements for Native children will continue to exist.

By utilizing fiscal data to track the distribution of resources available to American Indian and Alaska Native children and youth, states and Native nations can better align available funding with existing needs, identify where increased investment is needed, and share best practices for educating and developing Native children and youth.

Sarai Cook is a senior fellow at Children’s Funding Project.