U.S. SENATE – Today, U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) held his third hearing on Indian education, this time focusing on challenges facing the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE).
At the hearing, Tester expressed frustration over the lack of strategic planning and budgeting by the BIE. “Nearly two-thirds of BIE schools are in fair to poor condition and yet there has been no strategic planning since 2004. If the BIE doesn’t plan for the future we can never pull Indian Country out of poverty. Education is the key to unlocking a promising future for the tribes of this nation.” Tester said.
“The BIE faces unique and urgent challenges in providing a high-quality education,” said Charles Roessel, the director of the Bureau. “These challenges include difficulty attracting effective teachers to BIE-funded schools – which are most often located in remote locations”
“Native students lag behind their peers on every educational indicator, from academic achievement to high school and college graduation rates,” said Melvin Monette, President-Elect of the National Indian Education Association. “Just over 50 percent of Native students are graduating high school, compared to nearly 80 percent for the majority population. For students attending BIE schools, rates are even lower.”
Turnover at BIE schools is an ongoing problem. Since 2000, there have been eight Bureau of Indian Education Directors or Acting Directors. That averages to a tenure of 18 months per Director or Acting Director.
President Bryan Brewer of the Oglala Sioux Tribe identified turnover as a serious issues saying, “Our children struggle when there is a changing cast of teachers from year to year. Stability in their instructors is a major benefit to them.”
Tester is also seeking to help Indian schools by encouraging language immersion programs. He recently introduced the Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act, which would award grants to eligible programs serving students from pre-kindergarten to graduate school that use Native American languages as the primary language of instruction. It would authorize $5 million in 2015.
Monette supports language immersion initiatives saying that “Learning and understanding traditional languages helps Native students thrive and is a critical piece to ensuring the BIE is serving Native students effectively. Immersion programs not only increase academic achievement, but guarantee that a student’s language will be carried forward for generations.”
“I look forward to continuing these hearings and identifying a path forward, whether that’s through legislation or administrative solutions, to improve education across Indian Country,” Tester said.
The bureau supports education programs and residential facilities for Indian students from federally recognized tribes at 183 elementary and secondary schools and dormitories. During the 2013-2014 school year, BIE-funded schools served approximately 41,000 individual K-12 American Indian and Alaska Native students and residential boarders. According to a government report, 65 percent of BIE schools and 76 percent of BIE dormitories suffer from less-than-adequate conditions.
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