Recommendations for Making Consultation With Tribes Meaningful, Respectful and Sustainable


December 14, 2016


The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) stresses the importance of improving educational outcomes for American Indian and Alaska Native students. Along with an increased emphasis on teaching Native languages and embedding culture into curriculum, ESSA has created opportunities for tribes to work more closely with state and local education agencies in support of Native students.

Under ESSA, state and local education agencies are required to engage in “timely and meaningful” consultation with area tribes while preparing and submitting plans for federal programs, including Title I funding and Indian Education Formula Grants (Title VI under ESSA). At the National Indian Education Association’s 2016 convention and trade show, representatives from five comprehensive centers—including the Northwest Comprehensive Center (NWCC)—discussed ways to foster meaningful consultation, as well as how districts can work effectively with tribes.

So what does “meaningful” consultation look like?

Two words: respectful and sustainable.

Meaningful consultation involves states and districts working with tribes and tribal organizations as equal participants in the conversation on a government-to-government basis.

Here are four recommendations for states and districts as they work to engage tribal leaders in consultation on issues affecting Native students:

  • Give tribal education agencies and stakeholders fair warning about your timeline for preparing and submitting plans for federal programs, as well as grant applications
  • Make sure you schedule consultation sessions early enough in the process so you can incorporate feedback into the plans you submit
  • Ensure stakeholders have background information on ESSA and Title I—and provide it if they don’t
  • Continue to work together after your initial conversations to refine the plans and ensure you are meeting the needs of all stakeholders

While the consultation provision is set to take effect in the 2017–18 school year (even as rule-making is ongoing), it’s not too early for stakeholders to begin working together. Annual plans for some title programs requiring tribal consultation need to be submitted in the spring of each year.