Tester introduces tribal school construction legislation

SAFETY Act will help upgrade and build education facilities in Indian Country

(U.S. Senate)-Senator Jon Tester today introduced legislation to address the failing infrastructure needs of Native American students.

Tester’s SAFETY Act will increase educational opportunities in Indian Country by building and upgrading classrooms, teacher housing, college dormitories, STEM labs, and vocational facilities for Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools, Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCU), and state-run K-12 schools with large American Indian and Alaska Native student populations.

“We can’t prepare students for the 21st century economy in deteriorating 20th century classrooms,” said Tester, Vice Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. “Indian Country is home to bright and inspiring students and teachers who are often held back by outdated and crumbling facilities. This bill gives tribes necessary tools so we can work together to build infrastructure, create jobs, and ensure that every student has a quality education.”

“The SAFETY Act will help to address one of the most basic needs for any education institution and in so doing, will enable TCUs to provide more American Indians and Alaska Natives the opportunity to access and complete a degree program in a field that will help our tribes grow their Native workforce and advance the economies of Indian Country,” said Carrie Billy, the President and CEO of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium.

The SAFETY Act will:
• Authorize an additional $5 million for school construction at TCUs and remove the funding cap that prohibits the federal government from contributing more than 80 percent of the construction cost.
• Allow tribes to contribute additional funds for construction at BIE educational facilities.
• Provide teacher housing assistance to Native American communities with BIE schools or public schools with a large number of Native American students.
• Require the BIE and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to develop a 10 year plan to bring all BIE schools into good condition, similar to OMB’s Defense Department school construction plan.
• Authorize a study on the infrastructure and facilities needs of local public schools on or near on Indian Reservations.

Of the 183 BIE schools, 58 are listed in poor condition, and funding for school facility replacement and repairs has fallen by 76 percent over the past decade.

In an October 2014 survey of Tribal Colleges and Universities, The American Indian College Fund found that 83 percent of TCU’s were in high need of student housing facilities, 74 percent were in high need of additional classrooms, and 70 percent were in high need of vocational technical facilities.

A 2014 White House Report noted that one of the greatest barriers to attracting educators in Indian Country was a lack of quality, affordable housing.

Tester’s SAFETY Act is available HERE.