Tester proposes fix to improve Indian education
Senator pushes solution to rebuild schools, strengthen tribal economies
(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester, Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, is proposing a straightforward solution to rebuild schools and improve education in Indian Country.
The 2009 Recovery Act authorized Indian tribes to issue bonds that would raise capital to build new schools and renovate existing ones. The Interior Department, however, did not set up an escrow account to allow tribes to take advantage of the support.
Tester, along with Indian Affairs Committee members Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.), wants Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to move forward with an administrative fix that would establish an account and allow tribal governments to access the program.
“It is our understanding that the lack of a school construction bond escrow account serves as the main inhibitor,” Tester told Jewell. “While the Nation’s economy continues to rebound since 2009, the need for capital investment in Indian Country remains significant.”
In their letter, Tester, Johnson and Franken reminded Jewell that one of the federal government’s “fundamental responsibilities” to Indian tribes is to ensure Native children get a high-quality education. He said that many attempts at reforming tribal schools over the past 100 years have fallen short of expectations.
“The fact remains that school facilities in many part of Indian Country are in such a state of disrepair they constitute a major impediment to educational achievement by Indian school children,” the senators wrote wrote.
Tester took over the Indian Affairs Committee earlier this year and immediately made improving tribal education one of his top priorities. His first hearing examined ways to improve early childhood education, and he will hold a hearing this week on strengthening K-12 education.
Tester also recently introduced the Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act to preserve Native languages and strengthen Indian education by establishing a grant program to fund Native language educational initiatives throughout Indian Country.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included $400 million in qualified school construction tax-exempt bonds for Bureau of Indian Education schools.