The NCAA men’s basketball tournament isn’t the only place where a full-court press is taking place this week. In Washington, D.C., bipartisan members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation wielded their collective clout on a critical education issue: obtaining adequate funding for the nation’s broken-down federally funded Bureau of Indian Education school system.
About a third of 183 BIE schools nationally have facilities with safety and health hazards that undermine learning — an education crisis described in the Star Tribune’s 2014 editorial series “Separate and Unequal.” One of these schools is the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig High School on northern Minnesota’s Leech Lake Indian reservation.
With Congress in the midst of the 2016 appropriations process, this is an opportune time for Minnesota’s delegation, as well as other states’ representatives, to make it clear that years of declining or minimal funding for school construction must end. While it will take time to address the backlog of school construction on reservations — at least $1.3 billion is needed — a strong first step is needed.
On Monday, Rep. John Kline, the influential chairman of the U.S. House Education and Workforce committee, sent a strongly worded letter to House members on the Appropriations committee. Kline urged committee members to provide $133.2 million for education construction in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, an increase of $58 million from 2015. This would match the president’s budget request. Kline, a budget hawk, noted in his letter that the nation needs clear priorities in the face of fiscal challenges. He’s right that providing a strong education to some of the nation’s most disadvantaged learners is one of them.
Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken of Minnesota weighed in with similarly strongly worded letters on Wednesday, urging Senate appropriators to “meaningfully address” BIE school facilities funding. They were joined by Democratic senators from other states with BIE schools: North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp, Montana’s Jon Tester and New Mexico’s Martin Heinrich.
U.S. Reps. Betty McCollum and Rick Nolan of Minnesota have long been champions for BIE schools. The latest push by their congressional colleagues is welcome, but follow-up work by all of them will be needed to ensure that Congress acts.