BIA schools targeted in Bush budget
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The Bureau of Indian Affairs could be stripped of its historic role in the education of Native American children under a major initiative of President Bush's new budget.

Relying heavily on a Congressional report which found disparities in the academic levels of Indian students, the fiscal year 2003 budget, released on Monday, targets the BIA school system for significant changes. According to the White House Office of Management and Budget, the performance of 185 schools that educate 50,000 children throughout the country is "ineffective."

"Academic performance of many students at BIA schools is far below public school counterparts," the budget states.

To remedy the situation, Bush proposes to open the schools up to "competition." Tribes would first be given the opportunity to take over educational institutions through self-determination contracts, according to the budget.

But for those schools which tribes won't assume control, the budget proposes to remove them from the BIA. Following "tribal consultation," Bush proposes to hand over the schools -- 69 of them, according to BIA documents -- to private entities.

"While external factors do contribute to poor academic performance, the time has come to reevaluate BIA’s role in the education of American Indian children," the budget concludes.

After the budget was unveiled yesterday, Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb told reporters that it includes $11.9 million to "encourage" the privatization effort. He said the funding targets schools that are "falling in the lowest level of achievement in terms of education efficiency."

Part of the money, he said, will be used to encourage tribes to take over the schools and to hire "expert" consultants to try and improve performance. "I don't want to say it's a desperation effort," he said, "but here's the lowest level and if you're ready to try, it's incumbent on us to try different efforts."

But with Indian Country opposed to the removal of trust duties from the BIA, the effort could anger tribal leaders, some of whom said yesterday they were still reviewing the proposal. In many instances, education is a treaty-guaranteed right which tribes feel should not be given to a private entity where the trust relationship may not exist.

Unlike other "ineffective" programs which are seeing a loss of funds, however, BIA school programs are not seeing a cut. Reducing the construction and repair backlog was Bush's only Indian Country campaign promise, made to Pueblo and tribal leaders in New Mexico in late 2000.

To fulfill the pledge, the budget proposes spending $164.4 million for maintenance and repairs. An additional $120.2 million is directed to building six new schools.

The facilities are: the Santa Fe Indian School, run by 19 Pueblo tribes, in Santa Fe, New Mexico (second phase construction); the Kayenta Community School on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona; the Tiospa Zina Tribal School, which Secretary Gale Norton visited last year, on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Reservation in South Dakota; the Wide Ruins Community School, Navajo Reservation, Arizona; the Low Mountain Boarding School, also Navajo in Arizona; and the St. Francis Indian School on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota.

"We are committed to making the dreams of each and every Indian child a reality," said Lynn Scarlett, Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget, at the budget briefing.

According to the budget, the backlog will be reduced by 2007. Following the completion of the six schools in fiscal year 2003, there will be just three left on the BIA's priority list.

The list was last updated by former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover just before he left the Clinton administration. McCaleb has not moved to update the list so far.

Get Budget Documents:
Interior Budget in Brief [DOI] | Budget Highlights: Service to American Indians [DOI] | Budget Highlights: Bureau of Indian Affairs [DOI] | Interior Overview [OMB] | Interior Details [OMB]

Related Report:
BIA and DOD Schools: Student Achievement and Other Characteristics Often Differ from Public Schools' (GAO-01-934)

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

Related Stories:
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)