Education | Opinion

Jon Whirlwind Horse: New schools bring hope for Indian children

A view of the Omaha Nation Public School on the Omaha Reservation in Nebraska. Photo from Facebook

Jon Whirlwind Horse, the president of the Dakota Area Consortium of Treaty Schools, proposes a new way to fund school construction and maintenance in Indian Country:
The fact is that for many Native kids, the poor condition of their school houses makes getting a solid education all the more difficult. Leaky roofs and shabby school construction make life in the cold, harsh winters on the Plains difficult if not impossible.

Over this period, the executive and legislative branches made strong, bi-partisan efforts to get new school facilities built by appropriating additional funds to the Interior Department. From fiscal years 2001 to 2009, $2.013 billion in new federal spending was appropriated for replacement school construction and facilities improvement and repair. From 2009 through fiscal year 2014, $708 million was appropriated for these two accounts.

DACTS and its members are grateful for the spike in federal spending which resulted in additional schools being built and renovated. We also proposed a creative way to finance more new school construction in a much faster way. The proposal was to authorize Indian tribes to issue bonds to raise capital and, in turn, use the funds raised to build new schools. Unlike traditional bond financing, the purchasers of these bonds would receive federal tax credits they would use to offset items of income.

The Stimulus Act contained authority for Indian tribes to issue $400 million in tax credit allocation for 2009 and 2010. While no tribe took advantage of the program, DACTS is reliably informed by congressional offices that this $400 million remains available for use. One thing the Stimulus Act bond program did not include was an escrow account to be used by the issuing tribes to repay principal once the bonds are issued.

Like the readers of this article, I am frustrated and saddened by the lack of progress Congress is making on any number of Indian country priorities. With the $400 million in tax credit authority still on the books, all that is left to do is establish the escrow account. I believe the time is right for Congress and the Administration to make this a priority in the next Congress which starts in January 2015.

Get the Story:
Jon Whirlwind Horse: Building Hope by Building Schools (Indian Country Today 10/2)

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