Education Policy Priorities

As the head of Montana’s public schools, Denise Juneau put politics aside to work hand-in-hand with communities and private businesses across the state to raise graduation rates to historic highs, creating a multimillion dollar boost to Montana’s economy.

Graduation Matters Montana, HarlemDenise pushed back on No Child Left Behind and other top-down federal policies that don’t fit our rural state, providing flexibility for Montana’s local school districts to make important decisions about our children’s education. Denise has raised academic standards so that when students walk across the stage on graduation day, they’re more prepared than ever for college, the military and careers.

Now, Denise wants to take her record of getting things done to Congress where she’ll fight for better-paying jobs, access to quality schools, and protecting our cherished public lands.

In Congress, Denise will advocate to:

  • Increase flexibility for states and local school districts to develop innovative education programs that fit their communities
  • Expand opportunities for students to have hands-on experiences in the workplace while in high school
  • Accelerate the rate in which students can earn college credits while in high school
  • Expand grant and loan programs that allow more students to access college

Top Veterans Priorities

“Like most Montanans, I have veterans in my immediate family — and we have a responsibility to live up to the promises we make them when they serve. As Superintendent of Montana’s public schools, I’ve focused on improving education for military children. In Congress, I’ll work to strengthen opportunities for military children and for all veterans and their families. I will fight to pass the Veterans First Act to improve accountability at the VA while also giving the VA greater funding flexibility to meet the needs of our aging veteran populations.”

Denise Juneau with veteran Richard BearchildWhile there are numerous proposals to enhance access to benefits for veterans, Denise will make the following items among her highest legislative priorities.

Veterans First Act — A comprehensive bipartisan bill to strengthen the Veterans Choice Program and provides the VA Secretary the administrative and funding flexibility he needs to improve care for veterans.

The Veterans First Act will:

  • Allow the VA to hold employees and administrators accountable for wrongdoing
  • Expand access to health care and enhance mental health services for veterans
  • Make it easier for veterans to access the benefits they earned
  • Expand Post-9/11 GI eligibility to mobilized Reservists

Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program Reauthorization Act — A bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program (HVRP) to provide support to state and local entities that work to assist homeless veterans looking for employment.

The Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program Reauthorization Act will:

  • Ensure that veterans receiving housing assistance under Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program and the Native American Housing Assistance are also eligible for HVRP

Veterans Entrepreneurial Transition Act — A bipartisan bill to empower veterans who want to own their own business.

The Veterans Entrepreneurial Transition Act will:

  • Enable veterans eligible for G.I. Bill benefits who apply to receive entrepreneurial training program, assistance on developing business plans to start their own business.

Indian Country Priorities

Investing in Indian Country

Tribal enterprises and Native individual-owned businesses are on the rise, which is great news and demonstrates the entrepreneurial drive present in Native communities. However, Indian Country continues to experience high unemployment rates compared to the national average. Congress and our federal partners need to focus on creating jobs, investing in infrastructure, and protecting tribally owned companies.

Infrastructure

Vibrant tribal communities need investment in road infrastructure, water and waste water facilities, and energy transmission. The 2009 Recovery Act provided much needed infrastructure investments in Indian Country, but Congress still must invest more robustly in critical infrastructure needs nationwide, particularly in Indian Country.  I will lead the charge in the U.S. House to make sure Indian Country — and rural communities across Montana — get their fair share.

Housing

Native families living in Indian Country face some of the worst housing conditions in the United States. Unsafe and unstable living situations create greater health disparities and hamper educational outcomes. There are a number of bad policies creating barriers to reservation economies, and adequate housing has been constrained by a lack of private investment due to the federal status of trust land and persistent lack of support from Congress.

Congress needs to fund federal programs like the Native American Housing Block Grant, Indian Community Block Grant, and Indian Housing Loan Guarantee Fund. We also need new policies to create better housing conditions in Indian Country that empower tribes to develop, implement and manage the policy approach that will work best for their communities.

Jobs in Manufacturing

In Congress, I would support the Small Business Act’s Section 8(a) Business Development program, known as Native 8(a), which Congress authorized to promote economic development in Indian Country. This program enables tribally owned companies to secure federal government sole-source contracts. Tribes use this economic tool to provide governmental services, support our military and provide good paying jobs in Indian Country.

Broadband

Universal access to broadband in Indian Country is needed to strengthen existing businesses, encourage economic development, improve rural healthcare and increase opportunities for distance learning. Broadband needs to be affordable and we need to focus on buildout in underserved areas. Currently, there are 13 tribal telephone companies in the nation. We need to create the conditions that enable tribal-centric telecoms so tribal communities can prosper.

Harnessing Natural Resources

Montana has a diverse landscape and our state’s economy reflects that.  Western Montana tribes benefit from more built infrastructure and access to some of America’s most famous waterways, while tribal nations in eastern Montana benefit from traditional energy resources, like coal.  Tribal sovereignty means that each nation can and should determine how best to grow their economy. I will always stand by each tribes’ right to self-determination.

Improving Healthcare in Indian Country

According to the National Congress of American Indians, Indian Health Service spending per capita for patient health is $3,100, while the national average of spending per capita for patient health is over $8,000. Chronically underfunded healthcare has led to American Indian and Alaska Native citizens to experience higher rates of disease and lower life expectancy rates than any other ethnic group in the United States.

Meth Addiction Treatment

Poplar Middle School students organized a march for drug abuse prevention and awareness.

Poplar Middle School students organized a march for drug abuse prevention and awareness.

High unemployment rates combined with historical trauma and lack of opportunity creates an environment for people to turn to drugs. Every day, tribal communities struggle to deal with how to solve the meth epidemic that is plaguing not just Indian Country but every corner of rural Montana. Federal funding for substance abuse treatment does not match the need we have. Most facilities in Montana have waiting lists, and Indian Health Service funding typically runs out a few months into every new fiscal year, leaving individuals seeking treatment them to wait or relapse.

Suicide Prevention

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for American Indian youth in the 15-24 year old demographic, which is 2.5 times the national statistic. Not only does the Indian Health Service need to be adequately funded, but funding requirements need to flexible enough to allow tribal governments to create programs that are culturally appropriate.

As Superintendent, I fought to ensure that the Montana Office of Public Instruction now provides training for educators to understand the signs of suicide and how to manage crisis intervention.  We’ve also increased school-based mental health services through rural co-ops.

I also directed the Montana Board of Public Education to adopt new health enhancement content standards that place an emphasis on social and emotional health and resiliency skills.

Through Schools of Promise, students in crisis can receive wrap-around services, which creates a network of support for the student.

Bolstering Public Safety in Indian Country

Police Officers

Lack of funding has led to tribal police departments woefully understaffed and charged with patrolling large reservations with only a handful of police officers at any given time. This means it could take hours before law enforcement can reach remote parts of a reservation depending on how many cops are on patrol. Multiple Montana tribes have declared states of emergency because of increased drug crimes.

I support giving tribal law enforcement departments the tools to arrest and try offenders for drug crimes, domestic violence and crimes committed against tribal police.

I will fight to grant tribes the jurisdiction needed to prosecute non-Indian offenders who commit crimes on tribal lands. In 2013, Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act to give tribes the authority to prosecute non-Indian domestic violence offenders, but I will work to expand that to drug crimes or crimes against children.

Strengthening Education in Indian Country

Schools of Promise

In 2010, I launched the Schools of Promise initiative to focus on improving Montana’s most struggling schools — all of which are located on Indian Reservations.

Children who attend designated Schools of Promise often come from deep, rural poverty. Public assistance services are sparse. The complex needs of these students and their families are often unmet and can make graduation difficult to reach.

Schools of Promise is helping these struggling schools make significant progress. The program has become a turnaround model for the U.S. Department of Education given its unique student engagement requirements, school board trustee training, and mental health wrap around services. As a member of Congress I will work to strengthen this initiative to better support struggling schools in all Indian Country.

The Nation magazine lauds Schools of Promise as “the best program the country currently has for turning around native schools.”

Strengthen Native Languages

Nistowa niitanikoowa ootskoyiiksistsiikoomahyahkii. Niska Pikunakii kii, niitapohtakii siksiikatsitapiiyawa taakaskiniipoowa nitsiipuhwahsin. Niitapohtakii ka-na-tsitaapiiyawa taakaskiniipoowa nitsiipuhwahsin

Pikuni translated to English as “My name is Blue Cloud Woman. I am a Pikuni woman and I am working for my people to have their language. I am working for all tribal nations to have their language”

Language is culture. It is at the heart of the way we relate to one another; as humans it is the cornerstone of our identity. As Indian Country continues to lose many of our elders that are fluent speakers, Native language revitalization is emerging as a top priority for tribal communities.

Given the role the U.S. Government had in the suppression of tribal languages, it is a moral and social imperative that Congress play a role in supporting the revitalization of tribal languages. The restoration of tribal languages will help build stronger communities that can fully contribute to Montana’s economy.

As Superintendent, I supported Montana funding native language immersion programs. The first immersion program was started in Browning in 1995, and this year’s class of kindergarteners will go through 12th Grade in an immersion program spending half the day speaking in English and half the day in Blackfeet.

This year, Crow Nation is adding an immersion program and a third tribe will be chosen in the near future.

As a member of Congress, I will educate my colleagues on the importance of tribal language programs. And, I will work to create new grant opportunities for tribes to create or expand language immersion programs.

Reform Bureau of Indian Education

The Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) is responsible for three facilities, including two schools, in Montana. However, BIE schools fall well behind their counterparts across the state in providing students with a quality education. BIE Schools need more robust funding, but we must also reform the Bureau to ensure that dollars are directed to improving performance in the classroom.

As a member of Congress, I will support the SAFETY Act to increase educational opportunities in Indian Country. That bill directs BIE and the Office of Management and Budget to develop a 10-year plan to bring all BIE schools into good condition and provides more resources to do so.

Congress must also make it easier for schools in Indian Country to recruit and retain good teachers. I support the Native Education Support and Training Act to create a system of loan forgiveness, scholarships and additional training for educators who serve in schools with a high percentage of Native American students.

Impact Aid

Thousands of Montana’s Native students benefit from Impact Aid funding to rural districts, reservations and BIE schools that are exempt from federal taxes. If not for this support, many schools in rural Montana could be forced to close. As Montana’s member of the U.S. House, I will be a strong voice for these districts, educators and students who directly benefit from Impact Aid.