By Sarah Cooke -- Associated Press
HELENA, Mont. (AP) - More money would be available for a state law requiring schools to teach all students about Montana's American Indian tribes under a measure making its way through the Legislature.
The proposal, endorsed Feb. 17 by the state Senate, is an attempt by Sen. Carol Juneau, D-Browning, to keep state Indian Education for All funding from going from $68 per student to the $20 per student proposed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer for the next two years.
The bill asks for $14.5 million in additional funding to help schools continue implementing the program, which went largely unfunded until lawmakers infused several million dollars in 2005.
Juneau wants $8.6 million more than Schweitzer's proposal and $7.5 million more than what Superintendent of Public Instruction Linda McCulloch proposed in her school funding bill, which was tabled in the House.
''We must continue forward in this process,'' Juneau told the Senate. ''Schools need to be provided adequate resources to continue with their work.''
Senators endorsed the bill, 30 - 20, and forwarded it to the Senate Finance and Claims Committee, where cuts may be made to make the proposal more palatable to the state House of Representatives.
Senate Minority Leader Corey Stapleton, R-Billings, questioned why such a ''drastic increase'' was needed and suggested finding common ground to avoid the issue becoming an ''all or nothing type of fight'' in the House.
The ''House attitude'' on the program was also mentioned by several other senators - a nod to a House budget panel's decision to virtually gut the program earlier this session. The move inflamed many Democrats and Indian lawmakers like Juneau, and sparked vows to get the money reinstated.
Juneau said what's been proposed so far is not enough to keep the program going at current levels, stating a need for continued professional development, textbooks and other materials.
Created in 1999, Indian Education for All expanded upon a 1972 provision in the Montana Constitution, recognizing the cultural heritage of the state's Indian tribes and committing the state to educational goals designed to preserve their identity.
Sen. Dan McGee, R-Laurel, argued there was no rational basis for Juneau's request and suggested schools needed the additional money for other areas like special education.
Sen. Jim Elliott, D-Trout Creek, said the state's tribes have waited long enough for sufficient Indian Education for All funding.
''This is a program that needs to be addressed,'' he said. ''It needs to have sufficient capital put into it so it can be addressed and so Montana, whether it realizes it or not, begins to heal some of the wounds of the last centuries.''