Fredericks Peebles & Morgan LLP
Advertise:   ads@blueearthmarketing.com   712.224.5420

Education
Bush administration's education plans questioned


The Bush administration is defending its reorganization of education programs at the Bureau of Indian Affairs amid a tribal lawsuit and sagging test scores.

At a hearing last Thursday, associate Interior deputy secretary Jim Cason said the restructuring will improve achievement levels of students. A study released the day before showed that American Indian and Alaska Native students scored below their counterparts.

"Right now, as an overall matter, two-thirds of our schools are failing to meet [adequate yearly progress] standards," Cason told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. "That's clear that's not the kind of success rate that Congress or the administration will find acceptable."

But rather than pump more resources into the 184 BIA schools themselves, the Bush administration wants to hire more management. The reorganization adds new levels of bureaucracy in hopes of improving accountability.

That doesn't sit well with the leaders of nearly a dozen tribes and reservation schools in North and South Dakota. A day before the hearing, they asked a federal judge to halt the proposal, citing a lack of adequate consultation and concerns about cost.

"This restructuring plan comes at a time when BIA schools and tribal schools are experiencing severe budget constraints and the lack of funds to provide basic services to children," said Harold Frazier, the chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, one of the plaintiffs.

The Great Plains tribes are among the most affected by the plan. Although the region is home to the second largest concentration of Native students and 44 percent of high school students attend BIA schools, the administration plans on closing six education offices located on reservations in the two states.

Shutting down the line offices will make it even harder for the schools and their students to improvement achievement levels, the tribes argue. "When many of our schools are not making adequate yearly progress, why would you decrease the staff on the ground to provide technical assistance?" said Robert Cournoyer, the chairman of the Yankton Sioux Tribe, another plaintiff.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), the vice chairman of the Senate committee, shares the tribal concerns. He told Cason that it is hard to justify the addition of new executives -- whose pay level would be higher than other education staff -- when problems exist at the schools.

"I'm a little bit perplexed when I hear that what we need to fix this system is more senior executive management staffing," Dorgan said.

The restructuring of the Office of Indian Education Programs isn't the only change taking place at the BIA. After nearly a year of searching, the administration finally hired a director for the office. Tom Dowd, a member of the Hopi Tribe of Arizona, starts work on June 11.

The education plan comes in addition to the reorganization that the entire BIA underwent over the past couple of years. The first reorganization resulted in the addition of new layers of management at the central office in Washington, D.C. Some regional positions were added but tribes complained about the failure to increase resources at the reservation level.

Hearing Documents/Info:
Oversight Hearing on Indian Education (May 25, 2006)

Relevant Links:
Office of Indian Education Programs, BIA - http://www.oiep.bia.edu
Office of Indian Education Programs Human Resources Services - http://www.oiephr.bia.edu