Indian schools targeted by federal budget axe; Tribal programs may face deep funding cuts

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DENVER -- At a time when the nation's schools are struggling to meet the
demands of increased costs for teachers' salaries, energy, heating, and
transporting students, the president and Congress are severely trimming
Indian education programs in an annual exercise of legislative might and
responsive lobbying.

The gloomy report came at the opening session of the National Indian
Education Association Convention Oct. 6, given to prepare 2,000 tribal
leaders and Indian educator attendees for probable cutbacks to their
schools and service programs.

"In March," said Lillian Sparks, NIEA executive director, "President Bush
released his FY 2006 budget, which called for cutting funding to BIA
education programs by 12 percent and at the Department of Education by 4.3
percent, for an average cut of 10.4 percent."

Sparks blamed the budget crisis on increasing war costs, diminished tax
revenues and hurricane damage in the South. Despite the nation's diversions
of funding to other areas of need, these cuts seem unfair, she protested.

Poverty, homelessness and despair continue to plague the Indian children
who attend the majority of schools that depend upon the federal funding
being slashed.

Sparks described lobbying efforts to restore the funding: "For the BIA
education programs, the House and Senate agreed to restore $36 million to
the school construction account, $8.8 million to the [Tribal Priority
Allocation] education allocation, $9.8 million to school operations and $13
million to higher education." She explained that the net effect of the
restorations resulted in a $4.5 million, or slightly more than 10 percent,
cut to BIA education instead of the 12 percent originally proposed.

"NIEA is working on educating the Congress in support of the higher Senate
levels and asking for even greater funding," she continued.

Following an analysis of historical federal funding levels, Sparks
concluded her remarks with a peculiar observation about the nature of
legislative appropriations: "A pattern has emerged in recent years where
Indian education programs get smaller increases in years where overall
[domestic] funding is up, and bigger cuts in years where overall funding is
down."

NIEA, which recently moved its headquarters closer to congressional offices
on Capitol Hill, has annually engaged in a vigorous campaign to get Indian
education funding restored, arguing that the federal government must live
up to its trust obligations in the education to the Indian people.

The organization sponsors a mid-February legislative summit in Washington,
D.C., Sparks said, that brings together Indian educators with key
policy-makers to give voice to their funding needs.

The NIEA convention was held in Denver Oct. 6 -- 9 with dozens of seminars
and workshops ranging from best practices and innovative strategies in
early childhood education through K -- 12 and higher education school to
program issues that concern American Indian communities.