Indian educators meet for legislative summit in DC
Monday, March 22, 2004

Indian educators from around the country are meeting in Washington, D.C., this week for the National Indian Education Association's annual legislative summit.

The summit, now its in 8th year, began yesterday afternoon with a discussion of some of the top issues facing Indian educators, their schools and their students. Cuts in the federal budget, the unfunded mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act, cooperation with other national organizations, escalating transportation costs and a reduction in school construction were high on the agenda. NIEA president Cindy LaMarr also called for support to eliminate Indian mascots.

Victoria Vasques, the deputy undersecretary for Indian Education at the Department of Education, and Ed Parisian, the director of Indian Education Programs at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, gave an update on their efforts. They spoke about their budget requests for fiscal year 2005 and other developments.

While Vasques acknowledged her office's budget remains flat at about $120 million, she said there is plenty of money available to serve the nearly 500,000 Indian students who attend public schools. "It may not have Indian, Alaska Native or Native Hawaiian on it," she said, "but we fund over $1 billion in '05 for Indian programs directly."

Vasques cited examples including special education and Reading First, a national initiative created by the Bush administration under the No Child Left Behind Act. "This is the best time to be in the education arena," she said.

The picture painted by Parisian, on the other hand, didn't look as rosy. He listed several funding cuts Indian education is taking in the area of scholarships, contract support costs, transportation, tribal colleges and school construction.

"We took a decrease overall in '05," he said.

Scholarships for Indian students, as one example, are being reduced by $547,000 next year. The cut means that 150 fewer students will receive awards, according to BIA budget documents.

Nevertheless, Parisian said education is the number one priority for new assistant secretary Dave Anderson, who will give the keynote today at the summit. Last week, Anderson visited two of BIA's four off-reservation boarding schools, an experience Parisian recalled as uplifting for the students.

"He had them on their feet in 20 minutes," Parisian said. "It was remarkable, it was inspirational, it was positive.

Parisian noted that public comments are due in the coming months on No Child Left Behind Act regulations for BIA schools. A joint tribal-federal committee drafted the rules and the one defining "adequate yearly progress" for BIA schools was discussed at some length yesterday.

Some Indian educators are trying to determine which standard -- state, federal or tribal -- to apply to their schools, or to ask for a waiver. Vasques said she would try to assist efforts with the states.

Dr. Lloyd Elm, a retired principal, urged colleagues not to worry too much about the adequate yearly progress standard. "It's minimal what they are asking you to do," he said. BIA schools can meet the the year-to-year improvements mandated by No Child Left Behind, he said.

The summit continues today with Congressional staff and tribal advocates providing an update and outlook on activities in Congress. The Native American Rights Fund will give an update about tribal education departments, an initiative that Vasques and Parisian said they fully support.

On Tuesday, the final day, NIEA will get an update on the Headstart Act Reauthorization, Impact Aid for public schools and the lawsuit against the Redskins trademarks. Cheyenne/Muscogee activist Suzan Harjo is on the agenda.

Relevant Links:
National Indian Education Association -
Office of Indian Education Programs, BIA -
Indian School Report Cards, BIA -

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