Education pitch hits Indian Country
Facebook Twitter Email

The Bush administration's emphasis on education takes a spin in Indian Country this week with two top officials pushing construction and reform of tribal schools.

But the visit to New Mexico by Secretary of Interior of Interior Gale Norton and Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb is just a hint of a larger focus on the future of education programs at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As President Bush pushes his "No Child Left Behind" legislation throughout this election year, the nation's 185 tribal schools will be considering a number of changes aimed at boosting the performance levels of 50,000 Native children.

The Bush officials, to be joined by BIA education director Bill Mehojah, start to address some of the issues today with an appearance on the nationally broadcast radio program Native America Calling. The show serves as a lead-in for a tour of three BIA schools in New Mexico that are the beneficiaries of policies the administration hopes to replicate elsewhere.

Included is an early childhood development program that has drawn positive reviews from educators and parents. Described by BIA officials as a "collaborative model of reform," the Family and Child Education (FACE) program encourages more parental involvement and parenting skills.

An early adopter was the To'Hajillee-He School, which the Bush officials are visiting this afternoon. Located in an urban Navajo community near Albuquerque, the school was one of the first six to receive funds when the BIA kicked off the program in 1991.

Since then, FACE has expanded to more than 30 schools in 11 states. More than 5,000 Native families nationwide have participated in an effort that targets what a child learns at home as much as in school.

The Bush administration plans to expand the program in the upcoming fiscal year to seven schools for a total budget request of $12.2 million. The average school receives $315,000 in FACE funds.

Older students are also part of Norton and McCaleb's tour with a visit to the Santa Fe Indian School tomorrow to break ground on the second phase of $38.5 million construction project. The school, which is run by the state's 19 Pueblo tribes, will receive $15.3 million next year to expand facilities for its 700 junior and high school students.

The school, which was built in 1889, poses special problems and risks for the BIA and students. A number of the aging buildings are beyond repair, according to BIA documents, but qualify for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

While a new dormitory to be constructed is expected to house 425 students, no repairs are being attempted on other facilities due to cost restrictions. Instead, the BIA will transfer the crumbling buildings to the tribes without fixing them.

A total of $120.2 million is being sought to repair Indian schools in fiscal year 2003.

Beyond Norton's tour, which also takes her to Isleta Elementary School in Isleta Pueblo this morning, the BIA is hosting several consultation meetings on Bush's reform policies next month. In a rapid-fire series of 10 sessions taking place in just three days, privatization of the lowest-performing schools, funding and other issues will be discussed throughout Indian Country.

McCaleb had told a Congressional committee he initially planned to consult with tribes, educators and other affected parties over a month-long period starting in April. But after a considerable delay, the meeting schedule wasn't announced until last week.

Relevant Documents:
Notice on Indian Country Consultation (5/7)

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

Related Stories:
Court to decide limits of trust duty (4/23)
Bush school proposal faces tribal debate (3/19)
McCaleb: Bush helping education (3/7)
Bush proposal strips BIA of education (2/5)
Bush school proposal criticized (2/5)
GAO report finds failing BIA schools (10/29)
Final BIA school goes online (8/24)
Norton, McCaleb to address Indian educators (7/23)
Norton pushes Indian school construction, reform (7/17)
Norton to visit Indian school (7/16)
Norton to visit Indian Country (4/25)
Tribal Schools on Priority List (2/16)