Staff and teachers grimly detailed the aging Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig High School building’s structural failings for three visiting U.S. congressmen Wednesday. But it was a comment from a student that drove home the dire need to replace the pole barn where classes are held.
As students in grades 9–12 gathered to relay their concerns, Minnesota Republican Rep. John Kline asked them where they stash their coats for handy access for their frequent trips outside between the high school — which lacks a cafeteria, gym and well-stocked library — and the elementary/middle-school building, which has all three. The sobering reply: Their coats are always within reach. It’s so cold in the broken-down building that kids usually have them on all day long.
The representatives’ visit to the remote northern Minnesota school on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation speaks volumes about their strong commitment to education. Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan’s district includes the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig campus. But it was a much longer trip for Kline, who represents a south suburban swath of the Twin Cities, and especially for Indiana Republican Rep. Todd Rokita. Kline is the chairman of U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee. Rokita chairs the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education.
A 2014 Star Tribune editorial series detailed deplorable conditions at the Bug school, as it’s known, and dozens of other schools in the federal Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) system. Kline and Rokita have called for a congressional hearing to probe BIE management and funding. Their involvement builds on advocacy work by Nolan and other members of Minnesota’s Democratic congressional delegation. That the push for new BIE school buildings is now bipartisan is encouraging. Kline and Rokita’s energetic tackling of this educational crisis is commendable.
State lawmakers need to continue their strong advocacy for the Bug school, too. Gov. Mark Dayton has pushed for additional educational aid to American Indian students. Lawmakers should swiftly approve his proposals. Lawmakers should also keep open their options to help rebuild the school. State Sen. Terri Bonoff has proposed an innovative public-private partnership for rapid replacement. The federal government must step up. But if it won’t act swiftly, the state should be ready to step in.