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Limited School Choice For Native Americans; Oakland Teachers Reach Deal To End Strike

Piled up picket signs at Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland, Calif. Oakland teachers began a strike on Feb. 21.
Jeff Chiu
Piled up picket signs at Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland, Calif. Oakland teachers began a strike on Feb. 21.

You're reading NPR's weekly roundup of education news.

Report: Limited school choice options for Native American students

According to a report released Mondayby the U.S. Government Accountability Office, "Few areas provide American Indian and Alaska Native students ... school choice options other than traditional public schools."

Using 2015-2016 Education Department data, the GAO looked at districts in which at least a quarter of enrolled students were American Indian or Alaska Native. It found 84 percent of those districts had only traditional public schools. The rest had at least one school choice option in addition to traditional public schools.

Most of the districts identified were in rural areas, which the report says often "do not have enough students to justify additional schools" and can have trouble attracting and retaining teachers.

Education Department announces support for proposed school choice tax credit

On Thursday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Republican lawmakers announced a proposed tax credit that would go toward donations to private school scholarships and other school choice initiatives.

DeVos appeared alongside Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., who said they plan to introduce the tax credit in Congress.

DeVos has long been a staunch supporter of school choice initiatives, including charter schools and vouchers to help families pay for private schools.

Critics of school choice say the programs funnel money and students away from public schools.

It seems unlikely this new legislation will make it through the now Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.

House education committee approves school infrastructure legislation

On Tuesday, the House Committee on Education and Labor voted in favor of legislation that would improve the physical and digital infrastructure of high-poverty schools. The Rebuild America's Schools Act would provide $70 billion in grants and $30 billion in tax-credit bonds to renovate, repair and digitize school buildings.

The Democrat-controlled House is expected to pass the bill, but its counterpart in the Senate is unlikely to make it through, as it currently has no Republican co-sponsors.

Why white school districts have so much more money

A new report opens with a startling number: $23 billion. According to the nonprofit EdBuild, that's how much more funding predominantly white school districts receive compared with districts that serve mostly students of color.

"For every student enrolled, the average nonwhite school district receives $2,226 less than a white district," the report says.

As Rebecca Sibilia, founder and CEO of EdBuild, explains, a school district's resources often come down to how wealthy an area is and how much residents pay in taxes.

"We have built a school funding system that is reliant on geography, and therefore the school funding system has inherited all of the historical ills of where we have forced and incentivized people to live," Sibilia says.

Oakland teachers reach tentative deal to end strike; Sacramento teachers weigh a walkout; Kentucky teachers call in sick

Teachers in Oakland, Calif., reached a tentative deal with the Oakland Unified School District on Friday. Union members will now vote on that deal, which includes a pay raise for teachers and a temporary stop to school closures. Educators in Oakland went on strike on Feb. 21 and could head back to class as soon as Monday.

Meanwhile, teachers in Sacramento are voting on whether to authorize their own strike. The Sacramento City Teachers Association's about 2,500 members began the lengthy voting process on Feb. 19. According to The Sacramento Bee, the school district is facing a $35 million budget gap, and is in danger of being taken over by the state.

On Thursday, thousands of teachers in Kentucky called in sick, causing several districts to cancel school. As WFPL's Liz Schlemmer reports, the educators were protesting a bill they worry would diminish teachers' voices in pension decisions.

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