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Teacher Housing Is a Critical Need in Native Communities (Opinion)

To the Editor:

We appreciate the article highlighting teacher housing as an educator recruitment and retention strategy (“More Districts Are Building Housing for Teachers. Here’s What to Know,” Nov. 22, 2023). However, it did not reference a population for whom this issue is critical: teachers who work in Indian lands school districts.

School districts serving students who reside on Indian Trust and Treaty and Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act lands are often remote. Teachers in these districts are frequently unable to build or own a residence on site because of restrictions for nontribal members. They must either live in district-provided housing or commute long distances in all kinds of weather. This has a direct impact on staff recruitment and retention, with many educators leaving these districts for better working conditions.

While teacher housing is a crucial need in Indian lands school districts, it is challenging to fund its construction and renovation. These districts have a difficult time raising funds for any infrastructure project—the presence of nontaxable federal land limits the districts’ ability to raise funds for construction from local sources (i.e., property taxes) the way most other school districts do. To help make up for this loss of tax revenue from tax-exempt federal property, Indian lands school districts and other districts containing federal property (military installations, national parks, federal low-income housing, etc.) receive assistance through Impact Aid.

However, though the program specifically allows for school construction, it is woefully underfunded, and constructing teacher housing is not an allowable use of those funds.

Proposed federal legislation in the U.S. Senate and in the U.S. House of Representatives will provide additional funds to the Impact Aid construction program and make teacher housing an allowable use. This legislation is a good first step in ensuring that Indian lands school districts can provide the housing needed to retain high-quality educators and improve student learning.

Brent Gish
Executive Director
National Indian Impacted Schools Association
Naytahwaush, Minn.

Nicole Russell
Executive Director
National Association of Federally Impacted Schools
Washington, D.C.

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