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Revised executive order promotes Indian education
Monday, May 3, 2004

An executive order designed to apply the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act to the education of Indian children was signed by President Bush on Friday.

Tribal leaders, educators, members of Congress and a group of Indian students attended the afternoon ceremony at the White House. The event was accompanied by the naming of a new 15-member National Advisory Council on Indian Education earlier in the day.

"It's going to improve the lives of our American Indian children and Alaska Native children," Bush said of the effort. "It is an important part of making sure we have a hopeful future."

Tribal leaders praised the order, which they said respects tribal sovereignty, language and culture while carrying out the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act. The law promotes accountability, flexibility, parental choice and research.

"This executive order is reflective of the kind of commitment that is needed to address the needs and unique challenges educators and schools face in Indian Country," said attendee Joe Garcia of San Juan Pueblo, the first vice president of the National Congress of American Indians.

"Through this executive order, the administration has reaffirmed the federal government's commitment to provide a meaningful and appropriate education to the nation's first people, showing us that no Native child should be left behind," added Cindy La Marr, president of the National Indian Education Association, who also attended.

Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who did not attend the ceremony, welcomed the policy but said the administration must do more to increase resources and funding for Indian students. "Words don't pay teachers salaries or replace crumbling school buildings," he said.

The order seeks to coordinate efforts between the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Department of Education and other federal agencies. It creates a working group -- to be headed by Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Education Secretary Rod Paige -- that will develop strategies to implement the order. The group will exist for five years.

The order also directs Paige to conduct a "multi-year study of American Indian and Alaska Native education" to report on the progress of the order and the No Child Left Behind Act. The study will provide the latest data and research on Indian students, whose standardized test scores are lower than their peers.

The new order replaces one that was signed during the Clinton administration in 1998. Bush administration officials, at the NCAI annual conference in November 2002, said they planned to breath new life into the policy.

Officials hoped to finalize the order last fall but were hindered by bureaucratic shuffles at the BIA, which underwent an reorganization that affected the agency's Office of Indian Education Programs. The Office of Indian Education, which was elevated by Paige last summer, took the lead in developing the new language.

The order comes amid growing concern by tribal leaders for Indian education funding. The Bush administration, in fiscal year 2005, has cut $79 million in education programs, from scholarships to construction of new facilities. Funding at the Education Department is staying the same.

In fiscal year 2006, the BIA budget will take another hit. The exact figures aren't known but the agency will see a nearly six percent decrease if Bush's plans go forward.

"Native students, under very difficult circumstances, do amazingly well," said Mavany Verdugo, president of the National Indian Head Start Directors Association. "However, they do not have the same opportunities and resources as other students." Verdugo attended Friday's ceremony.

Keller George, president of the United South and Eastern Tribes, welcomed the level of tribal and federal cooperation envisioned under the order. "Tragically, Native students are not living up to their potential," said George, who was present at the signing. "This executive order will help focus and direct the resources of the federal government with regard to Indian education."

According to government statistics, nearly 500,000 American Indian and Alaska Native students attend public schools. About 48,000 attend the 185 schools within the BIA system.

Get the Order:
American Indian and Alaska Native Education (April 30, 2004)

Signing Ceremony:
Video | Audio

Relevant Links:
National Indian Education Association - http://www.niea.org
Office of Indian Education Programs, BIA - http://www.oiep.bia.edu
Indian School Report Cards, BIA - http://www.oiep.bia.edu/school_report_cards.htm

Related Stories:
Tribal leaders press for budget consultation policy (04/15)
Tribal leaders hope to counteract Bush budget cuts (04/13)
Tribal leaders denounce BIA budget plans as reckless (03/24)
BIA education programs taking $79 million hit (3/23)
Indian educators meet for legislative summit (3/22)
Cuts run deep for tribal programs at BIA (03/09)
Navajo leader gives BIA a 'D' for school funding (03/04)
BIA to publish replacement school construction list (2/26)
Comments sought on No Child Left Behind Act rules (02/26)
Tom Daschle: Leave no Indian child behind (2/25)
Senate panel shares criticism of Bush budget (02/12)
Tribal leaders pressing Congress on funding (02/11)
BIA programs barely survive White House test (02/10)
BIA budget staying the same under Bush request (2/3)
BIA Schools: Are Indian students being left behind? (01/26)
NCAI president uses speech to lobby for funding (01/22)
Bush education official pays visit to N.M. school (01/09)
Report card shows Native students falling behind (06/23)
Paige advancing Indian issues at Ed. Dept. (6/16)
Tribal-federal effort targets Indian education (11/15)
Controversial BIA school proposal dropped (05/16)
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