Cherokee Nation Chief signs new law to invest up to $40 million toward new Head Start facilities, improvements at existing locations

Oklahoma Tribal News

JAY, Okla. (KFOR) – A new Cherokee Nation law will invest tens of millions of dollars toward building new Head Start facilities and improving current facilities on reservations.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. signed the Verna D. Thompson Early Childhood Education Act into law on Tuesday while visiting the tribe’s Head Start facility in Jay, according to Cherokee Nation officials.

The law allows the spending of up to $40 million toward replacing eight existing Cherokee Nation Head Start centers with new facilities and upgrade other Head Start facilities located on Cherokee reservations.

Chief’s official signing of Verna Thompson Head Start legislation. Photo provided by the Cherokee Nation.

The law also calls for a comprehensive review of the early childhood education services Cherokee citizens receive.

“Cherokees have long known that the first years of any child’s life should be spent in a nurturing and enriching environment to help build the best possible foundation for their lives,” Chief Hoskin said. “Our collective future is being written today by the investments we are making in our youngest children. That’s why I am excited to sign the Verna D. Thompson Early Childhood Education Act. This is an historic step in Cherokee Nation’s aggressive plan to help our youngest learners and their caregivers. The legislation is named in honor of Head Start Director Verna Thompson, who has worked for Cherokee Nation and in early childhood education for 37 years. Her dedication to early childhood education is unparalleled. With this legislation officially signed into law, we will begin the work of modernizing the tribe’s facilities for current students and for the thousands of Cherokee youth who will one day follow them.”

New Cherokee Nation Head Start Centers will be built in Tahlequah, Nowata, Kenwood, Jay, Cherry Tree, Redbird, Salina and Pryor.

“Since the announcement, we’re all excited to see our dream of new facilities come to fruition,” Thompson said. “The new facilities will absolutely inspire us to evaluate our whole approach in best practices and will surely complement the curriculum, service delivery and overall enthusiasm. What a blessing for our current children enrolled and to those not yet born!”

Chief Hoskin signs Verna Thompson Act. October 19, 2021. Photo provided by the Cherokee Nation.

Facilities that serve thousands of predominately Cherokee children who are often from low income homes will be modernized. Children at the facilities, who are as young as six weeks to pre-school age, learn vital cognitive, language, motor and social skills.

The tribe’s main Head Start campus is in Tahlequah, and there are 65 other Head Start classrooms across the Cherokee Nation Reservation, in all serving nearly 900 children through the program.

“Cherokee Nation Head Start programs throughout our reservation have been such a blessing to so many Cherokee families, but we recognize the aging facilities are in need of repair or replacement and we are committed to making those changes,” said Deputy Chief Bryan Warner. “Another key component of this legislation will allow us to conduct a comprehensive review of all early childhood education services available for Cherokee citizens so we can address any problems that might exist. With these investments, our youngest Cherokees will have the tools they need to continue thriving.”

Construction on new Head Start facilities and improvements to existing locations will be paid for through federal funding and limited general funds for planning, according to Cherokee officials.

District 1 Tribal Councilor Rex Jordan sponsored the legislation and called the measure a great investment. 

“I believe this is money well spent, and I was proud that Chief Hoskin signed the legislation passed by Council to provide funding for the new Head Start units across the reservation,” Jordan said. “I’m also pleased with the naming of the act. Verna Thompson has dedicated herself to raising generations of young Cherokees with compassion and love.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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