It shouldn’t take more than a decade to rebuild Minnesota’s deteriorating Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig High School. Nor should children in Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools elsewhere attend class in falling down buildings while faraway bureaucrats fail to act.
Fortunately, the estimated 49,000 students who attend BIE schools now have a welcome new champion in Minnesota Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline.
In the wake of the Star Tribune’s editorial series “Separate and Unequal,” which documented deplorable conditions in BIE facilities in Minnesota and across the nation, Kline has called for a congressional hearing to hold BIE officials accountable for the unconscionable school construction delays — a situation he has dubbed a “bureaucratic boondoggle.’’
“This appalling situation not only adversely affects the quality of education these students receive, but also their health and safety,” Kline wrote in a Feb. 13 letter to BIE officials that was cosigned by U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind.
In their influential congressional leadership positions, the two lawmakers share responsibility for the “well-being and education of all students,’’ as they note in the letter. They also have the clout to make changes. Kline chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee. Rokita is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education.’
Their willingness to demand answers from the Obama administration is laudable. As their letter states, Obama’s 2016 budget requests additional resources for school construction, but it’s questionable whether the administration has an effective plan to address the problem. Under Obama’s budget, it would take the estimated 30 years to replace all of the BIE schools that need rebuilding.
For far too long, the federal government has neglected BIE schools, which are often located on remote reservations. Providing these children with a solid education would give them the tools to lift themselves and their communities out of poverty.
While Minnesota’s Democratic congressional representatives have been strong advocates for BIE schools, GOP involvement is critical.
It’s fitting that Kline, who served as a U.S. Marine, is leading on this important issue. What the BIE system desperately needs is a detailed battle plan to rebuild schools. The nation’s other federally funded school system, run by the Department of Defense, is in the midst of a $5 billion construction surge. That military-style planning, efficiency and commitment to students is exactly what the BIE needs. Kline can and should play a pivotal role in making that happen.