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An 'F' for funding

As I sit working on the Title VII Indian Education grant for the 2008 - 09 school year, I am struck by your article, ''Improved Indian education data collection needed'' [Vol. 27, Iss. 43]. My Indian Education program has 1,062 identified students: 8 percent of our district's enrollment, a significant population by California standards. I still cannot get disaggregated data from the state or my district on American Indian students, or accurate information on graduation rates or dropout records. I do know American Indian students are 1.7 times less likely to earn a high school diploma than their non-Indian counterparts.

I can get American Indian statistics like ''only 18 percent of our 11th-graders, 24 percent of 10th-graders and 32 percent of freshmen are proficient or above in mathematics.'' We require three years of math, including one year of advanced math and an additional requirement of passing the math portion of the high school exit exam, for graduation. How can 75 percent of our students be less than proficient in math, and yet we claim that 96 percent of American Indian students graduate? It doesn't make sense. We do not account for the number of students that are pushed into alternative education, herded into adult education classes, only to be dumped by the system.

Each year at this time I ask, ''Who is the advocate for Indian Education, the students and families we service?'' Who speaks for us? Certainly not the Office of Indian Education. In recent years, Indian Education has faced funding cuts each year. The Title VII grant is funded at a rate of $194 per student in California. My budget has $811 in discretionary funds for next year's program costs.

With this money we provide after-school tutoring, counseling and cultural activities. Each year we verify increases in grade point averages and higher numbers of American Indian students pass the high school exit exam. Our students' math SAT scores increased over a five-year period to be equal to those scores achieved by all other students. A large number of families attend counseling sessions to resolve issues and develop parenting skills; improvement was measured in graduation rates, attendance and behavior. I think that we do remarkably well with the budget that we have. We could do much more if we could return to the budgets of the late '90s. But, who is our advocate?

Indian Education dollars should be spent on research to explore how best to educate Indian children. We should receive additional funding to implement findings into culturally responsive ways to engage students in math, reading, writing and science. Instead, in the urban sector, we report back to OIE erroneous data that make our school district look good and point the way to a lack of need for more money to support Indian education.

My hope is board members like Quinton Roman Nose will champion for us. We need accurate data, for sure, but we need funds to run research and monies to fight in the trenches for our Indian children. Who will speak for our children? Will NIEA?

- Michael Folsom, M.S.

Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma school psychologist/Indian educationHuntington Beach, Calif.