Two Minnesota nonprofits serving adult American Indians aiming to finish their high school education are recipients of nearly $900,000 in new funding by the state Legislature.
The money was part of a broader racial-equity package championed by DFL legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration, which lobbied hard for a series of proposals to address disparities in education, housing and the workforce.
“It’s profound and it’s also long overdue,” said Tuleah Palmer, executive director of the Northwest Indian Community Development Center in Bemidji.
The nonprofit currently serves about 150 GED learners in the 60-mile radius that Palmer says is home to more than half the state’s American Indian population. Palmer expects that number will double with the infusion of money.
“We had no funding before,” she said. “We’ve been doing it before really with volunteers and retired teachers and a hodgepodge of ways.”
The funding will allow the Bemidji nonprofit to expand hours, add staff and tutors, and develop a culturally appropriate curriculum.
The other nonprofit also receiving funds is the Minneapolis-based American Indian Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC). The nonprofits are partners and serve similar populations. Many American Indians in Minnesota frequently move back and forth between the Twin Cities and northern Minnesota, where many tribes are based, said Joe Hobot, executive director of the American Indian OIC.
“Having these mirrored sites, we felt was integral,” Hobot said.
The program, Anishinaabe Basic Education Initiative, is expected to have an immediate impact on underemployed American Indians who make a living working two or even three minimum-wage jobs, Hobot said. State officials estimate that only about half of American Indian students finish high school in four years.
The adult education curriculum prepares students for in-demand jobs in health care and information technology. The curriculum is also culturally appropriate.
Dayton attended a news conference announcing the new funding last week in Bemidji. Dayton earlier this year had proposed $100 million in one-time funding to address the state’s long-standing racial disparities. The Legislature ultimately approved $35 million in ongoing funding.
“Providing all Minnesotans access to educational opportunities will help build an economy that works better for all Minnesotans,” Dayton said in a statement.
Much of the funding provided to the adult-education initiative is one-time funding, but about $250,000 will be ongoing, Dayton’s office said.
Hobot said that while the funding will have an immediate effect, “I can’t stress enough the fact that this is the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “It is only addressing adult learners.”
He said the state still needs to address low achievement rates in the K-12 system and that Minnesota “still needs to have more robust career training opportunities.”