Indian schools go without fixes while military schools see $5B

Bureau of Indian Education Director Charles Roessel, left, and William Mendoza, the director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, testified at May 14 hearing on Indian schools. Photo from House Education and the Workforce Committee

Indian school construction ground to a halt during the Bush administration but the effort appears to be back on track as lawmakers from both parties put focus on the issue.

So far this year, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, and the House Education and the Workforce Committee have convened hearings on the dismal conditions at Bureau of Indian Education schools. The Bureau of Indian Affairs needs at least $3 billion to replace old facilities and make overdue repairs at others, according to the Bronner report.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: Hearing on Examining the Federal Government's Mismanagement of Native American Schools

"At a school I visited earlier this year, blankets hang over the doors in a desperate attempt to keep out the cold air. In fact, thin metal walls are all that separate students from harsh winters in states like Minnesota and South Dakota," Rep. John Kline (R-Minnesota), the chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee, said at a May 14 hearing. "Meanwhile, classrooms lack the most basic school supplies, such as desks, chairs, and textbooks."

The fiscal year 2016 budget proposed by President Barack Obama in February provides $25.3 million for the Little Singer Community School and Cove Day School, both on the Navajo Nation. The two schools have been waiting for replacement facilities since 2004, the last year the BIA published a school construction priority list.

The Bush administration never updated the list, citing concerns about the performance of the replacement school construction program. The Obama administration at one point said it was going to come up with a new list but nothing panned out.

The roof at a Bureau of Indian Education school has sprung multiple leaks after being installed in 2010 at a cost of $3.5 million. Efforts to fix the problem have gone nowhere. Photo from Government Accountability Office

In the meantime, the Government Accountability Office has repeatedly criticized the BIA in reports and in testimony. The Obama administration is restructuring the BIE as part of its Blueprint for Reform but Congress has been told that it won't necessarily address management and spending concerns.

The situation in Indian Country stands in stark contrast to that of the military, home to the only other school system directly run by the federal government. The Department of Defense is spending $5 billion to rebuild 134 of 181 schools, The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

The BIE oversees 185 schools in nearly two dozen states.

Get the Story:
Washington is taking notice of crumbling Native American schools (The Washington Post 5/20)

Also Today:
American Indian, low-income kids often struggle academically, but thrive at this U.P. school (Michigan Radio 5/20)

Committee Notices:
Examining the Federal Government's Mismanagement of Native American Schools (May 14, 2015)
Oversight Hearing on "Bureau of Indian Education: Examining Organizational Challenges in Transforming Educational Opportunities for Indian Children." (May 13, 2015)
Examining the Challenges Facing Native American Schools (April 22, 2015)

Government Accountability Office Reports:
Further Actions on GAO Recommendations Needed to Address Systemic Management Challenges with Indian Education (April 22, 2015)
Bureau of Indian Education Needs to Improve Oversight of School Spending (November 13, 2014)

White House Report:
2014 Native Youth Report (December 2014)

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