Grant Two Bulls’ inspiring story is a reminder of the potential of Minnesota’s 20,000 American Indian students. Two Bulls, an 18-year-old senior at the Breck School, was featured this week in a Star Tribune story. He recently won the American Indian Science Fair with a project that combined science with his Indian heritage to study the environmental impact of an ancient settlement on the shores of Lake Calhoun. He’s now bound for Dartmouth College.
Most of Minnesota’s Indian students don’t attend an elite metro private school. They get their education in the state’s public schools or its four federal Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools. This week, as part of his supplemental budget, Gov. Mark Dayton proposed historic initiatives to help all Minnesota students of Indian heritage unlock their full potential, just as Two Bulls is doing. Legislators need to follow Dayton’s lead and pass these targeted measures.
The initiatives clearly signal that Dayton and Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius are putting a priority on closing achievement gaps statewide. Most Indian students attend classes in outstate Minnesota. Nationally, Indian students have the lowest graduation rate of any ethnic group.
The initiatives also closely hew to the recommendations of a working group of Indian education leaders convened late last year after the Star Tribune published a series of editorials on broken-down BIE schools. One of Dayton’s proposals would more than double funding for the state’s unique BIE Tribal School Equalization program, which currently provides about $1.1 million a year to minimize per-pupil funding gaps between these schools and state schools. Dayton is also proposing a major investment in a program modeled on the Success for the Future grants that provide math coaching and mentoring. The $15 million in funding over the next biennium would dramatically expand access to the program.
Indian students too often are overlooked in achievement-gap policy debates. Dayton’s solutions are sensible and evidence-based. Lawmakers who want to maintain Minnesota’s economic edge — its educated workforce — will swiftly support these critical investments.