WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) delivered the following address to the National Indian Education Association.
Barrasso’s remarks focused on the work the committee has done on Indian education and on legislation he will introduce to reform and modernize the Bureau of Indian Education.
Senator Barrasso’s Remarks as Prepared for Delivery:
“Good Morning. I want to give a special welcome to all the members of the National Indian Education Association, and to all the tribal leaders here today.
“I want to thank NIEA President Patricia Whitefoot for inviting me to speak with you today, and to open your annual legislative conference.
“I also want to thank of each of you for your commitment to Indian education issues.
“The National Indian Education Association plays an important role in advocating for the needs of Indian students, and I thank you all for that.
“It has been my honor to serve as chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs during the past year.
“I have had the privilege of working with Senators from both sides of the aisle who are dedicated to helping people across Indian Country.
“Over the last year, we have been busy. We have passed 31 pieces of legislation out of our committee, including six that have been signed into law.
“Important Indian education amendments were included in the “Every Child Achieves Act” – the education reform law. These included authorizing grant programs for teacher trainings.
“The law also empowered tribes to be able to apply for competitive education grants previously only available to state education agencies.
“We’ve held 27 hearings on important topics such as economic development, youth suicides, addiction, Indian health, juvenile justice, gaming, the safety of tribal roads, and many more.
“We also wanted to get out of Washington and into Indian Country. So we held four field hearings in Wyoming, Montana, Oklahoma, and Alaska.
“Last May, we held an oversight hearing that examined the organizational challenges facing the Bureau of Indian Education.
“The BIE school system includes 183 elementary and secondary schools and dormitories, and serves about 48,000 students.
“We heard testimony that the bureaucracy at the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs has created administrative and staffing problems for schools.
“We heard that BIE needs to be more accountable and better organized. Across the country, BIE schools are crumbling and need repair.
“The BIE has languished under the umbrella of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Red tape and a confusing bureaucracy have made it almost impossible to improve schools.
“Leadership at the BIE has been just as much of a challenge for tribes – there have been 33 directors in the past 36 years.
“The BIA is not an agency equipped to run schools – and it has failed the students of Indian Country.
“Only 53 percent of students graduate from BIE high schools, compared to 67 percent of Indian students at public schools. We must do better.
“That’s why I’ve introduced legislation this week to modernize and reform the Bureau of Indian Education, and to give it the tools to truly make changes.
“My bill is called the Reforming American Indian Standards of Education Act, or “RAISE” Act.
“It would streamline the Bureau of Indian Education into an independent agency under the Department of the Interior.
“This will make the bureau more accountable, more transparent and more capable of meeting the needs of Indian students across the country.
“This new agency within the Department of Interior would be headed up by a Senate-confirmed director.
“It will have direct access to the secretary, and direct accountability to Indian County.
“Together, the team of directors will be responsible to oversee the administration, curriculum, and facilities management of BIE schools.
“Tribes will have a place to voice concerns about their local schools, and they’ll have a leadership team that they can hold accountable.
“This new system will also help strengthen government-to-government relationships with tribes.
“This would not be the first time that Congress made a federal school system autonomous.
“This approach has been successful at the Department of Defense, and it can work at the BIE.
“The Bureau of Indian Education needs change, and it needs clarity. The RAISE Act will help get this done.
“I am asking the National Indian Education Association for its support of the RAISE Act.
“Together we can work to address the issues at the BIE and help students in classrooms across Indian Country.
“This is an important issue – we cannot let Washington’s bureaucracy stand in the way any longer.
“Thank you again for inviting me to come speak with you today. Have a wonderful conference.”