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Congressional action restores UTTC funding

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BISMARCK, N.D. - Funding for United Tribes Technical College is not an earmark in the federal budget. At least, not in the style of those now under scrutiny by Congress.

''We are not a pet project,'' said David Gipp, UTTC president. ''We are not a shady deal or some boondoggle that nobody knows about.''

UTTC's $3.5 million annual appropriation, core funding for its vocational and technical degree programs, was omitted by the BIA in the fiscal year 2007 budget proposed by President Bush. This is the fifth year in a row that the college has been forced to seek restoration through congressional action.

''Our budget has been restored with bipartisan support under the leadership of the North Dakota congressional delegation,'' Gipp said. ''It's unfortunate that the move to eliminate earmarks may have the unintended effect of hurting our educational programs.''

As one of the oldest of the nation's 35 tribal colleges, UTTC served 1,100 students last year from 66 different tribes around the country.

''If anything, our funding difficulties stem from a failure in the federal bureaucracy,'' Gipp said. ''Each time our funding is restored by Congress, it corrects a BIA violation of a long series of contracts we've had for educational services under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act.''

Now in its fourth decade, the act is regarded as one of the most productive pieces of Indian legislation in modern times. It opened the door for tribes to elect to directly access funds that were controlled by federal agencies and manage their own programs at the tribal level. The result has been an overall strengthening of tribal infrastructure. With it, tribes have proved they are quite capable of successfully providing services across a breadth of community programs, including education.

The self-determination law, which carries the number P.L. 93-638 as amended, is simply referred to in Indian country as ''638.''

''As a 638 contractor we provide a service that the Department of Interior would otherwise be required to provide,'' Gipp said. ''We have repeatedly maintained that holding us out of the budget is contrary to the Self-Determination and Education Act. The president is required to seek funding each year for all contracts under the act.''

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When UTTC began in 1969 as a vocational training program, it was operated by the BIA. After becoming a college governed by the tribes in North Dakota, it received its first self-determination contract in 1978 and has operated under those contracts ever since. Funding for UTTC has been a part of the BIA budget since the facility opened and became a line item in the BIA budget beginning in 1981.

With the only difference being the self-determination contract, UTTC is similar in funding to two other tribal colleges that are operated directly by the BIA.

''We believe we should be included in the budget in the same manner as Haskell Indian School and Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute,'' Gipp said. ''We have never sought to retrocede the responsibility for educating Indian students back to the BIA. That's why we view it as a bureaucratic failure being left out of the BIA budget the past several years.''

That failure could have serious consequences for the college's funding mix. Like most colleges, UTTC receives a number of discretionary, competitive grants that supplement BIA core funding for its 17 career and technical vocational programs. Among those is the Carl Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. Other programs at UTTC also receive separate federal funding, including the college's elementary school, small business center and several other intertribal programs that are housed on-campus.

''Without the core funding we would be ineligible for discretionary grants we now receive,'' said Shirley Bordeaux, UTTC dean of finance.

Bordeaux pointed out that all of the college's supplemental funds are discretionary and are not necessarily available from year to year. For that reason, an end to the core funding provided by the BIA would have a compound effect on college operations.

As for the idea of shifting the UTTC appropriation somewhere else in the federal budget, the college is not eligible for funds under the Tribally Controlled Community Colleges and Universities Act. That law allows a tribe to sponsor only one tribal higher education institution. UTTC was founded as an intertribal institution before its five governing tribes each became a sponsor of their own tribal college.

As the time approaches in February when the president's budget recommendations will be released for fiscal year 2008, UTTC officials said they will continue to seek support for restoring the appropriation that was omitted for the current fiscal year.

''We remain hopeful that reasonableness will prevail,'' Gipp said. ''Getting caught up in the otherwise well-intended push to eliminate earmarks could cause harm that would take years to recover from.''