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More funding sought for Native American schools

U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is urging the Obama administration to provide more money to upgrade schools run by the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE).

In a letter to Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, Franken notes that more than 80 of the 184 schools funded by the bureau have been listed as "in need of major repairs or replacement." But since 2005, the senator says, funding for Indian school facility needs have decreased significantly, and the bureau has been able to complete only one or two facility projects a year.

"The purpose of funding Indian school construction is to provide Native American children with environments that are safe, clean and therefore conducive to learning," says Franken, who serves on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. "It is unfair to expect our students to succeed academically if we fail to provide them with a proper environment to achieve success."

Many schools have been waiting for years for critical repairs. Franken says that in his home state of Minnesota, the Circle of Life School on the White Earth reservation, was ranked 6th out of 14 on a school replacement list in 2004, but the school has yet to receive funding.

Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) has stated that at the current level of funding, it would take 30 years to clear the repair backlog and bring BIE K-12 facilities up to acceptable condition.

The BIE, part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, oversees about 48,000 K-12 students.

Billion-dollar backlog

Number of schools funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs determined to be in poor condition Amount of funding needed to bring those facilities into acceptable condition
64 $1.3 billion
*As of Dec. 31, 2009 Source: Bureau of Indian Affairs
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