By Kimberly Hefling, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON – The Obama administration says it will ask Congress for $1 billion next year to run schools for Native American children — including millions in new money to help fix crumbling buildings.
The request — $150 million more than in this year’s budget — sets aside $58 million in new funding for school construction and $18 million in new funding for repairs. It also seeks $33 million to expand the schools’ Internet capabilities.
“It’s hard not to feel sad or angry when I look at the condition of the facilities,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told reporters, adding, “We can and we must do better.”
The federally run schools situated primarily on remote and impoverished reservations are among the nation’s worst performing. About 48,000 students attend the 183 schools in 23 states.
The schools have a tainted legacy dating to the 19th century when Native American children were shipped to boarding schools. The federal government continues to have a treaty and trust responsibility to run them, but they’ve historically struggled with issues such as financial mismanagement, bureaucracy, poverty and attracting high-quality teachers.
Since President Barack Obama’s summer visit to a North Dakota reservation, the administration has pushed ahead with a plan to give tribes more control, but the endeavour has been complicated by the estimated $1 billion in disrepair at the schools.
Mould, mice and leaky roofs are among the problems. More than 60 of the schools are listed in poor condition, and less than one-third have the Internet and the computer capability to administer new student assessments rolling out in much of the country.
Late last year, Congress provided the schools with a $40 million bump in annual spending for 2015 over the previous year — about $19 million for school replacement. That meant funding to finish the Beatrice Rafferty school in Maine and design new facilities for the Little Singer Community and Cove Day schools in Arizona, according to the Interior Department.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a member of the House Appropriations Committee and a Native American, said in a statement that he appreciates the effort to put more money into tribal education.
“In the days ahead, as my colleagues in the House and Senate seek to find common ground with the administration, I remain hopeful that we can make significant progress in Indian country during this session of Congress,” he said.
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