WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA) Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) praised the committee’s passage of S. 2580, the Reforming American Indian Standards of Education Act (RAISE Act).
The RAISE Act was introduced by Barrasso on Feb. 25, 2016. It would modernize and streamline the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) into an independent agency under the Department of the Interior. Having a separate agency will create better accountability and transparency for education-related functions, and enable it to better meet the needs of Indian students across the country.
This independent agency would bring together a panel of qualified experts, including a presidentially appointed director, to oversee curriculum and facilities management.
The bill will now go before the full Senate for consideration.
“I am glad the committee has taken action to reform the Bureau of Indian Education,” said Chairman Barrasso. “Native students deserve a school system that is accountable to their needs. The RAISE Act will cut red tape, simplify a confusing bureaucracy, and above all improve the safety of schools in Native communities. I thank the members of the committee for their support and will work with my colleagues to see this bill through the Senate.”
During the business meeting, the committee also passed a substitute amendment to the RAISE Act, which was offered by Barrasso, in order to further strengthen the legislation. The amendment was also supported by the National Indian Education Association and incorporates many recommendations from the Department of the Interior. The amendment:
· Authorizes $983,000,000 annually, of which $130,000,000 would be spent for school construction, maintenance, and repairs. This is the current funding level for the Bureau of Indian Education, and for school-construction funds at the Bureau of Indian Affairs;
· Modifies the titles of the assistant directors, and provides defined functions of the director and assistant directors;
· Clarifies the purpose of the education agency;
· Requires the president to submit a budget request each fiscal year for school construction; and
· Includes a memorandum of understanding between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the newly created Indian Education Agency to provide technical assistance as needed.
The BIE school system includes 183 elementary and secondary schools and dormitories, serving some 48,000 students. These schools are located in 23 states and on 54 reservations, including one school on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.
The BIE directly operates 57 schools and dormitories, and Indian tribes operate the remaining 126 schools and dormitories through grants or contracts with the BIE. The BIE is a bureau within the U.S. Department of the Interior, under the assistant secretary for Indian Affairs.
The Government Accountability Office has issued numerous reports detailing systematic problems with the organization of the BIE, as well as the crumbling infrastructure at the schools themselves.
On April 6, 2016, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a legislative hearing on the RAISE Act.