This Day in History: President Clinton Reaffirms Federal Commitment to Indian Education, but Problems Remain

Seventeen years ago, on August 6, 1998, President Bill Clinton issued Executive Order 1309, stating:

The Federal Government has a special, historic responsibility for the education of American Indian and Alaska Native students. Improving educational achievement and academic progress for American Indian and Alaska Native students is vital to the national goal of preparing every student for responsible citizenship, continued learning, and productive employment. … In order to meet the six goals of this order, a comprehensive Federal response is needed to address the fragmentation of government services available to American Indian and Alaska Native students and the complexity of inter-governmental relationships affecting the education of those students. The purpose of the Federal activities described in this order is to develop a long-term, comprehensive Federal Indian education policy.”

In spite of this policy, Indian children continue to lag behind their white peers in education. MPR reported earlier this year that only 49 percent of the state’s Native American students graduate on time, the second worst in the nation, based on 2012-13 data. In 2014, the Star Tribune ran a four-part editorial series titled: “Separate and unequal: Indian schools, a nation’s neglect,” detailing how the federal government has failed to live up to its commitment to the education system run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

It should be noted that the Executive Order does not create a legal basis for any claims against the government for failing to live up to its promises. The Executive Order finishes with this disclaimer:

This order is intended only to improve the internal management of the executive branch and is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or equity by a party against the United States, its agencies or instrumentalities, its officers or employees, or any other person.

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