No Laughing Matter, John Kline Should Cry

QUERY : What if Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig High School on Leech Lake Indian Reservation wasn’t in northern Minnesota, SHOULD Chairman John Kline have known about the school’s condition ?

ANSWER : YES !

Today’s Strib article is an eye-opener :
After hearing on poor state of Indian schools, Rep. John Kline doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry

The article covers a hearing that was held to “educate” committee members about the conditions of Native American schools.

Todd Rokita (R-IN), who has visited a number of schools including Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, the Gila River Indian Community Education Division and the Theodore Roosevelt School and John F. Kennedy School on the White Mountain Apache Reservation, as well as Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig High School, stated :

The conditions at these schools are deplorable. Some classrooms lack desks, books, computers, pencils, and paper, while others lack proper flooring, roofing, and ventilation. Some schools are missing a working water heater. Others are missing front doors and are rodent-infested. And for many students, attending these unsafe and unhealthy schools is their only option.

Despite the many obstacles that stand in the way of these students and educators, their resiliency and determination to create better lives for themselves is nothing short of inspiring. They understand the importance of an education and the opportunities it will afford them. I’ve also met dedicated teachers and school administrators who are working hard to overcome these challenging conditions and help improve the lives of their students with quality educational opportunities.

The first paragraph is should make you cry … while the second paragraph may make you laugh.

The first paragraph has been well documented in various government reports (i.e. Broken Promises, Broken Schools from 2011, or the more recent GAO report from this February) … as well as the repeated pleas from Native Americans.

As Bradley Budinger observed “teachers have been cut from using copy paper. Pencils, sharpeners and other materials are so inferior they break constantly. Teaching positions are unfilled. And, wireless Internet goes unused without wireless computers to use them on” [which begs the question of the condition of the Bureau of Indian Education school computers … in an initial assessment of BIE IT capabilities, it is estimated that 25 percent of BIE schools still use the Windows XP operating system (circa 2001 and no longer supported by Microsoft). Many new computers must be purchased that are capable of running at least Windows 7. Additionally, 60 percent of BIE-funded schools do not have the bandwidth or computers to administer required testing. Additionally, the technology infrastructures within the schools need improvements across the board. New wiring, switches, routers, wireless access devices, and more need to be purchased so schools have well-functioning networks.]
OK … so if they do not have paper or computers, how realistic is the second paragraph’s assessment that these “obstacles” are being overcome ?

In February, Melissa Emrey-Arras, director of Education, Workforce, and Income Security, testified before the House Appropriations Committee, “Evidence shows that poor school facilities equate to poor educational outcomes for students.”
Sure … there may be some schools making improvements … but overall, the most recent Department of Education data indicate that the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools report a high school graduation rate of 53 percent, compared to a national average of 80 percent … so please Congressman Rokita, don’t try and sugarcoat it.

The reality is that more than one in three American Indian and Alaska Native children live in poverty … the best way to change their future is to invest in their education. And think about the JOBS that would be created for the construction industry … in some areas where the unemployment rate is already too high.

That’s the problem. The physical condition of school facilities in Indian country means not only appalling learning conditions for some American Indian children, but they make it difficult to attract and retain good teachers and principals, and then not to have the needed supplies or equipment just makes matters worse.

In some ways, America is fortunate that Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig High School is located in Minnesota … cause that may the only reason that Chairman Kline visited it … but that school is just one of many …
— Rock Creek in the Standing Rock Reservation, a school that is crumbling, where two out of the three facilities for teachers are available and one of them is completely in disrepair, where the portables are not put on foundations so they’re sinking and where the school has to chisel out the landing areas so the doors can actually be opened. FYI : Portables classroom are intended to be for temporary use and many times are installed much like a mobile home, with utilities often being attached to a main building to provide light and heat for the room.
— The Crystal Boarding school in Arizona where 50 percent of the boarding school capacity is literally boarded up because the school had fallen into disrepair and they were currently uninhabitable and where the school itself was very, very old, historic, but falling apart around the students that were there.
— Or the Moencopi Day School in on the Hopi Reservation where they are showing fairly strong academic performance levels because of a dedicated principal and a dedicated staff but where more than 50 percent of the students are in portables that were put in place in the 1980s. Despite the heroic efforts of the personnel keeping the facility maintained, it’s really not conducive to the kind of learning that those students need.

There are 63 schools in dire need for investment.

Chairman Kline is getting much-deserved heat from the Strib … and he is responding to that by praising them for their “Separate and Unequal” series … he even invited Jill Burcum of the Strib‘s Editorial Board to testify at the hearing.

Interestingly, the Strib article states

“Neither Interior Department nor Bureau of Indian Affairs officials were invited to the hearing, which was meant only to be an information-gathering session before Kline and his colleagues decide what to do next, his staffers said.”

Sounds like a great hearing … when the people that are assigned to implement Congressional-enacted laws and distribute the funding that Congress authorizes, are not participating.

That’s really the problem … for too long, there have been reports on this problem … at least since a 1969 Senate report described the federal government’s failure to provide an effective education as a national tragedy and a national disgrace that has “condemned the [American Indian] to a life of poverty and despair.”

As Ms. Burcum said “There is no plan as far as I can tell to rebuild the school … their hands are tied, there is no funding available” as the already-slow process of funding school construction was further sidetracked by the automatic cuts to the federal budget known as sequestration in 2013
The Indian Affairs 2015 budget request for grant support costs for schools is $48.2M, the same as the 2014 operating plan level.
According to the DOI 2014 Budget Justification, $48.2M “will fund approximately 67 percent of the need” of tribally run BIE funded schools.
By comparison, in 2014, the Department of Defense received $315 million for school construction for the schools it has jurisdiction over (just part of a $5 billion ongoing project).

It’s a sad, sad, sad, picture,” said Brian Cladoosby, the president of the National Congress of American Indians, who was one witnesses that testified about the condition of the schools.

Yes, Mr. Cladoosby is correct … “It’s a sad, sad, sad, picture,” and no one should be laughing about it … especially a Chairman of the Education committee.

Here’s the question for the 535 men and women in Congress who make the decisions about funding BIE schools:
Would you allow your own children (or grandchildren) to set foot in any BIE schools, let alone attend them every day ?

But, hey, let’s congratulate Chairman Kline for allowing something that has happened since 2008 — hold a hearing on school construction — as the Republican Party has historically been adamant trying to push this onto a state or local responsibility. Heck, it was only in 2010, when Betty McCollum offered a bipartisan bill (H.R. 4475) to specific set-aside monies for Indian schools education programs … it garnered support from four other Minnesotans, but not John Kline … and it died in committee.

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