OKLAHOMA CITY — A new law for the first time requires school districts to ask students for their specific tribal affiliations in a bid to better target federal funds earmarked for Native American children to the schools they attend.

House Bill 1104, which takes effect Thursday, requires districts to include an option for students to self-identify their tribal affiliations as part of mandatory demographic data collection that already includes the collection of things such as grade level, date of birth, attendance and special education.

While the Oklahoma State Department of Education has never collected tribal data before, a spokeswoman for the agency said some districts have voluntarily been collecting the information for some time.

State Rep. Mark Vancuren, R-Owasso, said the measure was requested by the Cherokee and Choctaw nations and should benefit both tribal students and public schools.

“There are a lot of things that you have to identify yourself as, check the boxes,” he said. “But Native American tribal ancestry was not one of the boxes that was a part of that.”

Vancuren said once students’ affiliations are identified, tribal nations can ensure schools more quickly receive all the available federal funding for those students.

He said that previously, schools received federal funding but the process of identifying tribal ancestry often involved tediously sorting through paperwork in an attempt to count every student. Some students, he said, risked slipping through the cracks.

He also said that by allowing students to select specific tribal affiliations and then compiling the data electronically, it will help tribes ensure schools receive the full federal funds available.

“HB 1104 allows Oklahoma public school districts to collect voluntary data from students about their tribal affiliation. This will help our local school districts better serve our native students,” said Chuck Hoskin Jr. principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. “It is a bright day for Oklahoma. When the tribes and state cooperate, we can create a better future for all Oklahomans.”

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhinews.com.

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