The website MinnPost out of the Twin Cities carried an article which has particular interest for us in Northern Minnesota. Written by Derek Wallbank out of Washington, DC, the article talks about Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum asking the house appropriations budget committee to approve to fund repair of federally managed Indian schools at an amount 5X greater than that proposed by President Obama.
Obama’s proposal was a construction budget for Indian schools of $52.8 million dollars to be spent in 2011. 63 schools out of 183 controlled by the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) are listed as in poor physical condition, with 14 of them rated at worse. Bug-0-Nay-Ge Shig in Bena and Circle of Life on the White Earth Reservation were two local facilities making the list. Estimates are that it would take about 30 years to fix the 63 schools at the current rate of funding. McCollum’s request is to raise the budget to $263 million dollars.
In defense of Obama, about $250 million was directed to Indian school construction under the stimulus package. Ten years ago the list of 63 schools was over 120 schools. It is estimated that over $1.3 billion dollars has been spent on projects over the past 10 years. Her funding request came after consultation with the National Indian Education Association, which reminded politicians that ¾ of Indian schools fail to meet federal testing standards. 3 of the 4 BIE schools in Minnesota did not meet testing standards.
Circle of Life School on the White Earth Reservation has received $1.7 million dollars for preliminary planning and design costs for a new facility. Construction is expected to begin later this year with completion of the new $15.6 million dollar facility happening in time for the 2012 school session.
Several comments followed the article. Some were wondering why Ms. McCollum was heading up the initiative. Betty McCollum is a Democratic representative from St. Paul while our Northern Minnesota delegation is not mentioned (Colin Peterson and James Oberstar). It should be said that she is the only representative from Minnesota to sit on the House Appropriations or Budget committees. Several people on both sides commented about taking casino revenues and directing that to some of these projects. Comments were made stating that millions of dollars have been contributed already from the tribes that “have” to the poorer tribes for various civic betterment projects. One comment stated the entire Bureau of Indian Education should be abolished. According to this person, the 186 schools have a total enrollment of 47,000…about the size of the St. Paul School District, and that over 50% of the students are listed as limited English proficiency, or special needs students. Not sure if the statistics he uses are accurate.
As you can see, the education needs of our country are great; spanning races and cultures, rich and poor, cities and rural areas. In my opinion along with healthcare, our number one challenge of this generation.