Education bill includes 'historic' funding for American Indian students, schools

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There are efforts underway at the state and federal level to improve education for some of Minnesota's most under-served students.

Academically, American Indian students in Minnesota tend to trail their peers. The state has one of the worst American Indian graduation rates in the country, according to National Indian Education Council, with only about half graduating high school on time in 2014, the Department of Education says.

State lawmakers are trying to help close this achievement gap with a "historic" investment in American Indian students and schools, the Star Tribune reports.

Included in the $17 billion education funding bill Gov. Mark Dayton signed over the weekend is nearly $18 million in new funding for American Indian education programs over the next two years.

In that, there is $12.5 million for school-level programs to help serve the roughly 19,000 American Indian students in the state, the Session Daily reports.

There's also $5 million to increase per-pupil funding at the state's four tribal schools that are overseen by the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Education (BIE). Non-tribal schools that have at least 20 American Indian students will also receive extra funding, Education Week notes.

"This bill has a lot of good investment in targeted programs," said Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, the Session Daily reports. "The BIE schools are probably the most under-resourced schools in our state and will provide more opportunities for these students."

The bill also includes additional funding for higher education scholarships, Northland's NewsCenter adds.

Many agree that this investment is a positive step forward. But some, like Nicole MartinRogers, a descendant of the White Earth Nation who is also a member of the St. Paul schools advisory board, told the Pioneer Press, "I need to see what is done with the money. ... Just throwing money at a problem is not a solution."

Federal funding bill moves forward

Many BIE schools across the country – including the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig High School on the Leech Lake Reservation – are considered dilapidated, and although the state education funding won't go to fixing the buildings, there is a push at the federal level to allocate such funds.

U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Burnsville, and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, are among the lawmakers who have called for the funds, saying American Indian students can't be well educated in a rodent-filled building that has structural and electrical problems.

Government estimates show about one-third of the 183 BIE schools across the nation are in poor condition, MinnPost reported. Officials at a Senate hearing in May noted the Bureau of Indian Education faces a $1.3 billion construction backlog at its tribal schools, Northland's NewsCenter said.

Now lawmakers and President Barack Obama are looking to fund some of those repairs. In the president's 2016 budget proposal, he requested nearly $60 million to fix dozens of tribal school facilities across the country – this is part of a larger funding request to improve lives for American Indian youth in the U.S.

And this week a congressional subcommittee said it backs roughly $60 million in additional funding that includes new money for repairs at the country's most dilapidated tribal schools, including Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig, the Pioneer Press reports.

The U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies recommendation moves the legislation forward, with the proposal now heading to the full House Appropriations Committee before going to the House floor, the newspaper notes.

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