The U.S. Bureau of Indian Education has more than 60 dilapidated schools in 23 states that are failing to provide some of the nation's most disadvantaged students with the safe, high-quality learning environments they deserve. This is an educational crisis that has been neglected for years by the U.S. government, which funds the K-12 BIE school system.
But thanks to compassionate, conscientious teamwork by Minnesota's congressional delegation, legislation providing a boost to BIE school construction funding is making headway in the U.S. House. This offers reason to hope that the federal government is finally getting serious about BIE's needs.
To be clear, federal officials are still months or even years away from announcing a massive effort to replace all the schools. A 2014 Star Tribune editorial series spotlighted deplorable conditions at northern Minnesota's Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig High School and at other BIE schools. Even smaller steps to boost BIE schools are vital and can build momentum.
That's why the recent announcement about funding from the office of Minnesota Republican Rep. John Kline is a positive development. Kline, the chairman of the House Education Committee on Education, has held two hearings focusing on the plight of BIE schools. Having an influential Republican join the push for new BIE schools by Minnesota Democratic Reps. Betty McCollum and Rick Nolan and Sen. Al Franken provided a shot of bipartisan energy.
Kline has called for a funding increase of nearly $60 million from last year's budget, roughly matching President Obama's budget request. This week, legislation containing that funding was approved by the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, on which McCollum serves. The legislation also specifically mentions the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig school's needs, which underscores Minnesota lawmakers' involvement in this issue.
The funding boost must be approved by the full U.S. House (a floor vote is expected this week) and the Senate. If it is, it's unclear whether it would provide funds for a new Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig High School. It appears likely, however, that the bill would enable construction on two broken-down BIE schools in Arizona.
While the progress is far slower than needed, the BIE replacement school construction boost is still an improvement over previous budgets that zeroed out funding. More teamwork by Minnesota's congressional delegation is critical to build on this momentum.