WASHINGTON — Saying it’s “time that Indian schools were recognized as a priority in our federal budget,” Sen. Al Franken has requested $293 million for Indian schools construction, a dramatic increase from the president’s budget request of $52.8 million.
Franken’s action means a funding increase request will now be considered in both houses of Congress — Rep. Betty McCollum, a member of the House Appropriations and Budget committees, requested a total of $263 million. Franken’s request would put the annual funding levels around 2003 levels, while McCollum’s would restore funding to 2005 levels.
“Children in Minnesota right now are subject to rotting walls, crumbling roofs, and generally unacceptable conditions,” Franken said. “Kids can’t learn when the building is falling down around them. We owe it to them to fix this injustice.”
One third of the schools managed by the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) — including Bug-O-Nay-Ge Shig in Bena, Minn. — are rated in poor physical condition. Circle of Life in White Earth was rated in even worse condition — listed back in 2004 as among the 14 schools most in need of having facilities replaced — though federal officials said construction on that school is expected to begin later this year.
Annual appropriations for Indian school construction
While the stimulus boosted construction with an additional $250 million, annual appropriations for Indian schools construction have dropped steadily since 2004, from $295 million that year to $113 million today. President Obama requested about half that — $52.8 million — in his fiscal year 2011 budget.
At that level, it would take 30 years to bring all the federally run Indian schools up to acceptable condition at current funding levels, Senate Indian Affairs Chairman Byron Dorgan said at a hearing earlier this year. That, said Franken and McCollum, is simply unacceptable.