Public schools are central to communities across the Cherokee Nation Reservation in northeast Oklahoma. With more than 19 of every 20 Oklahoma school-age children attending public schools, these schools have an irreplaceable mission to be available to every child no matter their background, keep them safe throughout the day and provide the core education and extracurricular opportunities to help them discover and achieve their dreams.
Of course, it’s easy to say that we support public education, but putting action to the words is sometimes not as easy. I am proud that Cherokee Nation continues to put that support into action. Our strong partnerships with area schools have filled gaps when state funding leaves some districts scrambling to do what’s needed for Oklahoma’s youth. We support local school districts because Cherokee Nation’s long-term success depends on the next generation of Cherokee children and all children living on our reservation.
This year, the Cherokee Nation is once again setting a new record by contributing nearly $7.5 million to 107 school districts in northeast Oklahoma. This is more than $1 million above last year’s contribution. In total, Cherokee Nation has provided more than $76 million to public education since 2002 through the sale of tribal car tags.
These resources are additional to the millions of dollars the Cherokee Nation provides to the state of Oklahoma for education funding annually through our gaming compact. We are doing more than ever to build a talented and educated citizenry that is prepared for the future.
We also know that local educators and school leaders usually understand best what is most needed for their school. That is why Cherokee Nation offers these donations without conditions on how they are used. If it best helps schools pay for teaching salaries that is excellent. If it is used for infrastructure needs or classroom technology upgrades, that is great too. During the past two years, many schools used the previous contributions to help respond and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. These extra dollars helped them ensure thousands of students stayed connected and continued to learn safely.
The pandemic has only reinforced the importance of working together as community partners. We are proud to have helped schools find ways to adapt and overcome.
We know public education still has many needs in Oklahoma, especially after state leaders have retreated from investing in public education in the past few decades. Cherokee Nation is doing the opposite. The tribe’s car tag compact dollars serve as a lifeline to local school districts. That’s something that every one of our tribal citizens should take great pride in.
This has always been the Cherokee way. Our tribal nation has a long and storied history of prioritizing education. In the same spirit of our ancestors, we are investing in our children, our communities and our future as Cherokees and as Oklahomans. Our investment in public education reflects that we are all in it together.