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Education money: one for all and all for one

MUSKOGEE, Okla. - Slimmed state education budgets across the nation will not start the year without money to fulfill their obligation to the educational needs of their Indian students. In Oklahoma, most Indian education dollars will benefit Indians and non-Indians unilaterally.

"It looks like the state received $22 million for 2002 to 2003," said spokesperson, Michelle Singleton, for the Oklahoma's State Department of Education about Indian education money going into the state's public schools and 160,000 students.

Singleton said nine of the state's 46 districts have chosen to let the state handle Indian Education funding.

"All the school districts have the option of the state handling it or it going directly to them," Singleton said.

Indian education money is funneled into public schools by way of numerous federal grants and policies designed to, "fulfill the federal government's unique and continuing trust relationship with and responsibility to the Indian people for the education of Indian children," according to the most recent education legislation, the No Child Left Behind Act.

Indian student enrollment equals more Indian education money for districts. Officially identifying Indian students is critical to initial enrollment of all students for Oklahoma school districts.

"Schools realize that Indian tribes through their students contribute significantly to the schools whether the general public realizes it or not," said Mike Miller, spokesperson for the Cherokee Nation.

"We have family liaisons who work primarily to help parents obtain the documents they need, like their CDIB cards," said Muskogee Public Schools Indian Education Director, Maxine Glory.

Family liaisons aside from proving Indian heritage also work closely with schools to provide tutoring for reading and math, cultural activities and presentations for all students.

Close to $500,000 in federal Indian education dollars goes to Muskogee Public Schools in Muskogee, Okla. The greater Muskogee area has one of highest Native American student enrollments in the state according to the state department.

"There are two federal Indian grants, Title 7 is $318,643, Johnson O'Malley is $71,746, and more recently the Cherokee Nation has allocated tag money at $32,822," said John Little, chief finance officer for the district.

"Title 7 is directly from Washington and JOM is contracted from the Creek Nation," Glory said, about Indian money going to the district by way of two congressional acts.

The Johnson-O'Malley Act of 1934 is a basic federal aid program for local off-reservation communities and other Indian-owned, tax-exempt areas with Indian populations, like public schools. Title 7 is the No Child Left Behind Act and is the most recent congressional interpretation for Indian education.

Muskogee's Indian education department never touches the Indian education money. They pass paperwork between the tribe who is allocating federal money and the district receiving the money.

"There are a lot of checks and balances for all the grants. It's a three step approval process," Glory said about how JOM and Title 7 funds are spent. "We have to first meet with the Parent Advisory Committee about what is going to be done with the grants. Then I meet with the superintendent who has to approve the plan. Then it goes to the Creek Nation."

"The money goes to the districts general fund. We send all of our paperwork to the Creek Nation because JOM is contracted from them, they reimburse the district for what has already been spent," Glory said.

Services and programs provided by the district's Indian Education department focus on culture, retention, and higher education.

Glory, who is Choctaw and Cherokee, said Indian education money benefiting all is the best service to Indian students.

"We do this to share so others know about who we are. It helps us and it helps Indian kids to be proud of who they are and do well in school," Glory said.

Cherokee and Creek nation students comprise the majority of Glory's Indian education students. Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Chad Smith, said the money Cherokee students contribute to public is significant and necessary.

"We distribute about $5.4 million in Johnson O'Malley funds statewide and more than $1.2 million in tag money to rural schools as a supplement to the schools' budgets with no strings attached," Smith said about the tribe's contributions to area public schools with high numbers of American Indian students.

"We contribute curriculum, internal resources, cultural resources, and language arts resources," Smith said. "Basically we acknowledge the vast majority of our students go to public schools and whatever we can invest benefits the Cherokee Nation and we are looking at other ways to contribute to public schools."