Kline denounces appalling conditions at tribal schools, but change is elusive

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U.S. Rep. John Kline told his colleagues on Capitol Hill Wednesday that children should not go to school in a pole barn.

The Minnesota Republican, who chairs the House Education and Workforce Committee, told the panel about his visit this month to the Bug-O-Nay-Ga-Shig School, a tribal school on northern Minnesota's Leech Lake reservation.

As MPR News reports, the Congressman described the converted pole barn where students at "the Bug school" often attend classes while wearing mittens, under a leaky roof amid a faulty electrical system and assorted safety violations.

Kline also had Jill Burcum, who chronicled the dilapidated condition of the school in a Star Tribune editorial series, testify before the committee.

But when it was over, Kline told the Star Tribune he doesn't know whether to laugh or cry – acknowledging frustration that several government agencies have some control over Indian schools but none is getting the job done.

While the Bureau of Indian Education was condemned during the hearing for not replacing the school at Leech Lake, Kline says the Interior Department, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Education Department all have supervisory roles as well.

Rep. Rick Nolan and Sen. Al Franken, both Democrats, have also visited Bug-O-Nay-Ga-Shig this spring and added their voices to the calls for change.

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The Bug school may be a poster child of sorts, but it has plenty of company in the ranks of tribal schools needing to be repaired or replaced. According to Wednesday's testimony half of the schools serving American Indians are dilapidated, Star Tribune says.

Last month Kline requested a $60 million boost in federal spending on fixing up those schools. But MPR says there's no sign yet of that money reaching schools.

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