Gardner, Bennet, DeGette, Tipton Introduce Native American Indian Education Act

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Colorado Senators Cory Gardner (R) and Michael Bennet (D), along with Representatives Diana DeGette (CO-1) and Scott Tipton (CO-03), today introduced the Native American Indian Education Act, legislation that would address the current federal-state agreements mandating states finance Native American’s tuition at certain universities.

States like Colorado that encounter severe budget constraints are struggling to fulfill the requirement to provide tuition-free higher education opportunities for Native American Indian students from out of state. Currently, the state housing the educational institution is responsible for the students’ tuition. This legislation would provide relief to state education budgets and protect tuition-free higher education for Native Americans by updating the tuition waiver program to reflect the current reality of educational costs and make the federal-state arrangement as equitable as possible. Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, covered just a few dozen students when it’s federal-state agreement was first struck in 1910. Today in Colorado alone, more than 31,539 Native American Tuition Waivers have been provided to approximately 15,770 Native American students from 351 Tribal governments. 

This legislation also directs the Department of Education to cover the tuition for out-of-state students so that the cost of educating Native American and Alaska natives from across the country does not fall solely on individual states. The purpose of the legislation is to ensure the federal government continues to live up to its commitment and provide educational opportunities to Native American Indian students.

“Colorado’s Fort Lewis College and higher education institutions across the country provide world-class educations to both Native and non-Native students,” said Senator Gardner. “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 Representatives Tipton and DeGette on this commonsense, bipartisan solution that makes Native American education a national priority.” 

"Education is a fundamental promise to all Americans,” said Senator Bennet. “Our bill would make it possible for schools like Fort Lewis College in Durango to continue providing Native American students with the opportunity of receiving a higher education—an opportunity they may otherwise not have without this important program.”

“This bipartisan, commonsense legislation will allow us to keep the promise we made to provide Native American and Alaska Native students with a free, high quality education,” said Representative DeGette. “It also ensures that the federal government is the one covering the cost of that education, not the states, so that each state can provide even more tuition assistance to in-state students.” 

“It is vital that the federal government fully live up to our nation’s treaty obligations with Native American Indians. An unfunded federal mandate in conjunction with in-state budgetary strains has forced unnecessary burdens onto universities like Fort Lewis College, threatening to eliminate Native American Tuition Waiver Programs,” said Representative Tipton. “We must continue to uphold centuries-old treaty obligations and allocate the appropriate funds for the many talented and bright Native American Indians students that seek a quality education.”