April 6, 2016

Barrasso Opening Statement at SCIA Legislative Hearing on Indian Education Bills

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA) chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) delivered the following remarks at a committee legislative hearing to receive testimony on the following bills:
·         S. 2304, the Tribal Early Childhood, Education, and Related Services Integration Act, a bill to provide for tribal demonstration projects for the integration of early childhood development, education, including Native language and culture, and related services, for evaluation of those demonstration projects, and for other purposes;
·         S. 2468, the Safe Academic Facilities and Environments for Tribal Youth Act (SAFETY Act), a bill to require the secretary of the Interior to carry out a 5-year demonstration program to provide grants to eligible Indian tribes for the construction of tribal schools, and for other purposes;
·         S. 2580, the Reforming American Indian Standards of Education Act of 2016 (RAISE Act), a bill to establish the Indian Education Agency to streamline the administration of Indian education, and for other purposes; and
·         S. 2711, the Native American Education Opportunity Act, a bill to expand opportunity for Native American children through additional options in education, and for other purposes. 
The hearing featured testimony from Mr. Lawrence S. Roberts, acting assistant secretary for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior; the Honorable Carlyle Begay, senator for District 7 in the Arizona State Senate; Ms. Patricia Whitefoot, president of the National Indian Education Association; and Sandra Boham, Ed.D, president of Salish Kootenai College.
At the beginning of the hearing, the committee also held a moment of silence for Joe Medicine Crow, of the Crow Nation, who passed away at the age of 102. Medicine Crow was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, as well as numerous honorary doctorate degrees.
Click here for more information on the witnesses’ testimony and to watch video of the entire hearing.
Senator Barrasso’s remarks:
“Today the committee will receive testimony on four education bills.
“Senator Tester has introduced two bills: S. 2304, the Tribal Early Childhood, Education, and Related Integration Act of 2015 and S. 2468, the Safe Academic Facilities and Environments for Tribal Youth Act.
“Senate bill 2304 establishes a demonstration program that would provide funding for early childhood infrastructure and workforce development.
“It would also expand certain benefits of the Federal Stafford Loan Forgiveness for Teachers Program.
“S. 2468 focuses on school construction needs for Indian children.
“Senator McCain has introduced S. 2711, the Native American Education Opportunity Act.
“This bill would allow students who attend a Bureau of Indian Education school the option to attend another school of their choice, using existing federal dollars.
“Finally, I have introduced S. 2580, the Reforming American Indian Standards for Education Act of 2016 – otherwise known as the RAISE Act.
“Last May, the committee held an oversight hearing on the organizational challenges facing the Bureau of Indian Education.
“The BIE school system includes 183 elementary and secondary schools and dormitories on 64 reservations in 23 states, with an estimated 47,000 students.
“We have heard from the Government Accountability report that the bureaucracy at the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs has created administrative and staffing problems for these schools.
“For instance, some of the most important functions like school construction, facility management, and budget planning do not directly fall under the director of the Bureau of Indian Education. Instead, the BIA manages these functions.
“As many of my colleagues on this panel know, the BIA is failing in that responsibility.
“In fact, just last month, the GAO issued another eye-opening report on the safety and health at Indian school facilities.
“One disturbing statistic GAO uncovered is that 54 schools have received no safety or health inspections during the past four fiscal years.
“In addition, the committee learned late last week that the current BIE Director, who was scheduled to testify today, has been removed from his position as a result of a recent Inspectors General investigation.
“If the BIA is not going to be accountable in ensuring a child’s school is safe to attend, then we must act.
“Simply put, my bill would move all education-related responsibilities to a new independent agency in the Department of the Interior.
“The new Indian education agency would be headed by a presidentially-appointed and Senate-confirmed director.
“It would also create two new assistant directors who would oversee education curriculum and facility management. This would streamline decision-making process, reduce the bureaucracy, and provide a more suitable structure than what currently exists.
“There are many challenges to improving Indian education beyond management. That is why I have introduced the RAISE Act today.
“This bill is a start toward a more responsible and responsive agency. 
“All of the bills before us today have a goal of creating a better environment for Indian students – whether they are attending a BIE-funded school, a public school, or a tribal college or university. To that end, I look forward to our witnesses’ testimony.”