TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (KFOR) — The Cherokee Nation presented more than $6.3 million to 107 school districts during the tribe’s annual Public School Appreciation Day held virtually Wednesday.
This year’s gift is the largest since the tribe began its annual contributions in 2002.
To make this yearly contribution, the Cherokee Nation allocates 38-percent of its annual car tag revenue directly to education.
“In order to have a bright future, we need to have a lot of our energy dedicated to the cause of education,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “This past year has been particularly challenging to school teachers, administrators, students and parents alike as we navigated the worst public health crisis in generations. I’m proud that our tribal government not only continues to support public schools, but that we also continue to expand our working relationships with those schools, finding more and more ways to offer assistance throughout the year. By doing this, we help guide the next generation to that bright future we all want them to have.”
Each school district makes the decision on how to use the funding for their schools. In the past years, schools have used the funds to cover anything from teacher salaries, facilities, operations, technology improvements or school programs. Many schools also used tribal car tag dollars to respond and recover from the impacts of COVID-19 over the past year.
“I want to thank all of our teachers and school administrators for the difficult work they have done over the past year. None of us have ever been faced with this situation and despite all of the barriers they had, each and every school district had to find innovative ways to transition into a safe learning environment,” said Deputy Chief Bryan Warner. “As a tribal government, we were positioned to offer our help in various ways and we did so without hesitation. It really does take all of us to bring up our children and ensure they have the tools and the skills they need to be our future leaders. I admire our educators for stepping up and leading the way for our children. As a parent, I truly am thankful for their commitment and determination and I’m proud that the Cherokee Nation is a partner in those efforts.”
For Westville Schools in Adair County, the Cherokee Nation tribal car tag dollars support the district’s COVID-19 protocols as well as the drivers education program that was started in recent years, according to Superintendent Terry Heustis.
“The Cherokee Nation has always helped Westville Public Schools. We have received a drivers education car, masks and PPE to help during COVID-19, along with extra funding to help us deal with COVID,” Heustis said. “Of course, we also receive motor vehicle tag money that has no strings attached and we have used it in multiple ways over the years. It always comes when we need an extra hand. The Cherokee Nation is always finding ways to help our Cherokee students, but they also help take care of all of our students. It is a great relationship and we can’t thank the Cherokee Nation enough for all of their help.”
Sand Springs Schools also used Cherokee Nation’s generosity to respond to the past year’s changes caused by the pandemic.
“The Cherokee Nation’s generosity has enabled our district to enhance our capability to provide mobile devices to all students and to provide support for connectivity. This is helping us address inequities that exist among our students,” Sand Springs Superintendent Sherry Durkee said. “This contribution is important due to the financial challenges that always seem to exist in public schools. However, in these ‘pandemic years,’ this partnership has been even more important in making sure our students and staff have the resources they need to access educational resources.”
School districts receive money based on the number of Cherokee Nation citizens they have enrolled, yet funding benefits all students.
“The Cherokee Nation Administration and the Council of the Cherokee Nation continues to remain committed to the safety, welfare and learning of all students located within our reservation boundaries,” Executive Director of Cherokee Nation Education Services Corey Bunch said. “There are over 30,000 Cherokee students attending schools inside of Cherokee Nation and this year over $6.3 million will go to public schools from the MVT funds to address the needs of all students.”
During Wednesday’s event, Bunch also announced that the Cherokee Nation will soon begin providing a virtual tutoring service for all students within in the tribe’s reservation in grades K-12, regardless of whether they are a tribal citizen. The Cherokee Nation will offer the service through Varsity Tutor. Cherokee Nation will work directly with schools in the tribe’s reservation to offer the tutoring service to students, and more details about this program will be announced at a future date.
“Principal Chief Hoskin, Deputy Chief Warner and the members of our Tribal Council appreciate all of the work school teachers and leaders have done to continue to educate our youth during this trying year. We consider it an honor to work in the field of education and working together with public schools has been, and will always be, one of our highest priorities,” Bunch said.
Since 2002, the Cherokee Nation has awarded school districts in northeastern Oklahoma $68.6 million in education contributions from car tag revenue.