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Bush official promotes No Child Left Behind reforms
MONDAY, JUNE 16, 2003

The Bush administration is moving forward with plans to elevate Indian issues within the Department of Education, an official said on Sunday.

Acting on a long-standing tribal request, Secretary Rod Paige will elevate the department's Office of Indian Education, said its director, Victoria Vasques. Once implemented, the office will report to Undersecretary Eugene Hickok rather than an assistant secretary.

"We're hoping that a letter notifying Congress will be forthcoming," Vasques said in an interview.

Vasques, a member of the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians, said the change is part of Paige's focus on improving options for Indian students and their parents. She was on the Gila River Reservation in Arizona yesterday to update tribal educators on the No Child Left Behind Act and how it affects Indian Country.

"We want out kids to succeed," she said, in describing law's four main goals of accountability, flexibility, parental choice and research. "We want our kids to achieve."

Citing statistics that show that 80 to 90 percent of Indian students lack proficiency in math, science and reading, Vasques said the research component of the reform act can be used to turn the state of affairs around. Tribes and their education departments can share their success stories not just among themselves but with federal officials.

"We need scientific data," she said at the meeting. "We need to know what works."

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) hosted the day-long summit, which looked for ways to advocate for Indian education on a tribal, state and national level. Attendees stressed the need for greater funding and more input into decisions that impact their students.

Melody McCoy, a Native American Rights Fund attorney who works on education issues, believes the elevation of Vasques' office can help in that effort. "Hopefully, it will mean more funding and more coordination at the department level," she said in an interview.

NCAI, which represents more than 250 tribes, and the National Indian Education Association (NIEA), the largest Indian education organization, have sought the elevation for more than a decade, McCoy noted.

Vasques, who joined the administration last September, also has been working on renewing Executive Order 13096. Signed by then-President Bill Clinton in 1998, it sets out several goals to improve the quality of education for American Indian and Alaska Native children.

The revitalized order will be aligned with the No Child Left Behind Act, said Vasques, who expects it to be finalized by November. "[Paige] wants that done," she said. "The White House wants that done."

The 2004 budget request for the Office of Indian Education is $122.4 million. Of the amount, $97.1 million will be used to help public schools develop programs to address the unique educational and cultural needs of Indian students. Also, $20 million will be used for a preschool program and an Indian teacher initiative, and $5 million for research.

"We try to emphasize academic achievement as well as culture and language," said Vasques. "How can children learn if they are not proud of where they came from?"

Relevant Links:
Office of Indian Education, Department of Education - http://www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/oie/index.html
National Indian Education Association - http://www.niea.org

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Controversial BIA school proposal dropped (05/16)
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Bush school proposal faces tribal debate (3/19)
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Bush school proposal criticized (2/5)
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Norton, McCaleb to address Indian educators (7/23)
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