Indian Education Director Focused On Improving Infrastructure

By Claire Caulfield
Published: Friday, February 16, 2018 - 7:14am
Updated: Friday, February 16, 2018 - 11:47am
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The director of the Bureau of Indian Education told a House committee Wednesday President Donald Trump’s budget will not impact plans to improve Native American education, despite a 16 percent cut to the bureau.

The Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) overseas 185 schools, including 54 in Arizona.

Tony Dearman, director of the bureau, told the House Committee on Education and The Workforce he is proud of improvements in bureaucracy-reduction.

“We are located in 23 states. Our schools take 23 different assessments. What we really hope comes out of negotiated rulemaking is one assessment,” Dearman said.

Dearman also outlined his plan for less “top down” governing, and instead said he has been collaborating with individual tribes and schools to hear their needs.

“As a system, what we’ve done in the past - and again, we’re really starting to work on this - we hire principals and leaders and we give them a key and say ‘go make great changes, good luck.’ But there’s no support,” he said.

President Trump’s budget, released on Monday, would cut the Bureau of Indian Education funding by $143 million, about 16 percent.

“We’re excited about the president’s budget and I’ll tell you why: The condition of our schools. The infrastructure is a critical piece of the budget and that's something that we need across our school system,” Dearman said.

However, Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva expressed concerns over the bureau's ability to improve education for Native American students given the cuts.

“Living within your means is one thing, having the floor ripped out from under you is a whole other thing and I think that's what this budget does,” Grijalva said.

In addition to the cuts to the Bureau of Indian Education, there is also a $319 million decrease in funding for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Grijalva listed programs eliminated or significantly decreased by the budget, which includes Housing Improvement Program, Indian Community Development Block Grant, Native American Housing Block Grant, Welfare Assistance and Job Placement and Training.

“The interconnection of these other reductions and eliminations within this budget in Indian country … isn’t that gonna have an effect on both the quality of education and the wrap around services?” Grijalva said.

The bureau has been plagued by issues for years. Majority of BIE-controlled schools are in poor physical condition and deal with asbestos, mold, lack of running water and other structural concerns.

The Government Accountability Office recently placed BIE on it’s “high risk list,” meaning the bureau has “vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement, or are most in need of transformation.”

Compared to public schools, math and reading scores at BIE school are significantly lower. BIE high schools have about a 53 percent graduation rate - 30 percent lower than the national average.

“We have been doing a lot of work, and our main goal is to get off of high risk by the next Congress,” Dearman said.

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