The San Diego Unified School District in California is among the many recipients of Johnson O'Malley funds. Photo: SDUSDIndianEd

Senate committee advances bill to update Johnson O'Malley education program

A bipartisan bill to update the Johnson-O'Malley Program for Indian students is inching forward on Capitol Hill.

By a unanimous voice vote, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs approved S.943, the Johnson-O'Malley Supplemental Indian Education Program Modernization Act, at a business meeting on Wednesday afternoon. Supporters said the bill will ensure more adequate funding for cultural programming, language classes, school supplies, powwows, field trips, career fairs and countless other initiatives across the nation.

"There can be no more serious task than we have for Indian children than ensuring the quality of their education," Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota), the sponsor of S.943, said at the meeting.

The bill requires the Bureau of Indian Affairs to update its student count for the program. Despite growth in the Indian population in the last two decades, the agency is still basing funding levels on data from 1995.

"Braveheart won Best Picture that year, the Macarena went viral and Amazon sold its first book, 22 years ago," noted Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana), a co-sponsor of S.943, who said he ventured to Google to find out what was happening way back then.

Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Business Meeting October 4, 2017

The Trump administration "supports the goals of S.943," Tony Dearman, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation who serves as the director of the Bureau of Indian Education, told the committee at a hearing on July 12 for the bill. The agency is still relying on 1995 data because he said not all JOM funding recipients have submitted data for an updated count.

The 1995 data identified 271,884 eligible students but more recent counts -- the ones that the BIA isn't using -- put the number at 321,273. Educators believe the true number is closer to 1 million.

The bill can now be considered on the Senate floor. It has not yet been considered in the House.

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Notice:
Business Meeting to Consider S. 943 (October 4, 2017)

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