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Sen. Tim Johnson: The fight for BIA school funding

Ed. Note: The following is a column submitted by Sen. Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota) in response to a recent newspaper editorial about Bureau of Indian Affairs school funding.

Johnson will be on the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation on Thursday, May 5, to tour the Crow Creek Tribal School, recently hit by a fire that destroyed the student dormitory. He will meet with school officials and have lunch with high school seniors.

I read with interest Chuck Baldwin�s recent editorial entitled "School children in danger: Crow Creek dormitory fire calls attention to decades of neglecting buildings." In this editorial, Baldwin accurately notes that Crow Creek is in need of a new gym and now, because of last week�s fire, a new dormitory. This school�s infrastructure, as is true of many schools in and outside of our Indian reservations in South Dakota, has deteriorated before our eyes.

While I have worked to direct more funding towards the rehabilitation and reconstruction of our aging schools, the Bush Administration and Congressional leadership have been resistant. This year, President Bush is calling for deep cuts in an already grossly underfunded school construction budget.

More specifically, the fight to get the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe a new gym and school is constant and ongoing. My office has been on countless calls with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) regarding the Crow Creek Tribe�s needs relating to this.

There have been relentless attempts to correct the bigger problem, including my legislation on Indian School Construction Bonding, as well as collective attempts to correct the President�s dismal budget recommendation with budget amendments and Senate appropriation recommendations. Further I pushed for passage of the "Parity Act" � a bill that would give the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe more "JTAC" (Joint Tribal Advisory Committee) funding. On more than one occasion, I have brought attention to the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe�s school concerns in the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

In 2004, Congress required BIA to compile a new priority list to address the most critical school construction needs. Congress appropriated more than $294 million for education construction that year, and in response to Congress�s direction, the BIA came up with a new priority list of 14 schools considered to be the most in need of replacement. Crow Creek is on this list. Another South Dakota school, Porcupine School located on the Pine Ridge Reservation, is also high on this list. Since 2004, and despite the need, funding for Indian school construction has been slashed by more than $155 million by the White House and Republican Congressional leadership.

The BIA has only funded construction for one school on the list in 2005, and can only support funding for two additional schools with the 2006 budget. This leaves 11 "priority schools" on the list without funding and still waiting. The need is great, but that does not mean the congressional delegation has been absent from the fight.

My attention is focused on both the long term need for school construction funds nationally, as well as the immediate need at Crow Creek. We need to make sure students can finish the year out, and prepare the school to open at the end of the summer.

I will continue my efforts to get construction dollars to the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, and remain in close contact with the BIA, the Tribe, and the school.

Relevant Links:
Crow Creek Tribal School -
Sen. Tim Johnson -

Related Stories:
Crow Creek Tribe needs up to $40M for new schools (5/2)
Editorial: Where were feds when tribe needed help? (5/2)
Crow Creek Tribe needs $2.2M to replace dormitory (4/29)
Wind stirs up another fire at Crow Creek school (4/28)
Crow Creek Tribe to replace dorm destroyed by fire (4/27)
School employees describe rescue of girls from fire (4/26)
Girls saved from fire at Crow Creek school dorm (4/25)