WASHINGTON - The Department of Education's Office of Indian Education disperses more than 1,200 grants to schools. The types of funding fall under two categories: formula and discretionary.
According to the National Indian Education Association, President Bush's fiscal year 2004 budget request for these programs is level with 2003. The bulk of the money - almost $100 million - will go to formula grants intended to improve the performance levels of American Indian children in elementary and secondary schools.
The discretionary funding includes $9 million towards demonstration grants to establish Native language and culture programs from preschool through high school. Discretionary monies also allot $11 million to professional development grants that emphasize teacher training. More than 850 Native Americans have completed the American Indian Teacher Corps program. After five years of training, its graduates teach in schools having large numbers of Native students.
Approximately $5 million is being allocated to National Activities plans, which fund research, evaluation, and data collection of Native American student performance.
Victoria Vasques, director of the Office of Indian Education at the Department of Education, says the grants complement the No Child Left Behind legislation, and provide an excellent opportunity for school districts to provide some type of supplemental service to their students.
"We try not to tell them what to design or do in their curricula. But we want to show we are improving in reading skills and math skills, starting at an earlier age," she said.
Vasques had been involved in Indian education for two decades. Early in her career she was director of Indian education programs for the Whittier Union High School District in California. Over the years she has consistently seen data showing the low scores for Indian students in reading, math, and science.
"Twenty years and I still see the same statistics - it's sad that for 20 years we are still doing the same thing. And we're still not succeeding. Our Indian kids experience a high dropout rate not only in senior high school but we see it even in junior high and some cases even elementary school."
She says the most important message she wants to deliver is that the No Child Left Behind Act is intended to help. It will help American Indians move forward and provide the services that their students need to be successful.
Vasques is pleased that the Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, is elevating the Indian Education office to report directly to the Under Secretary, Eugene Hickok, effective Oct. 1. Previously Indian Education fell under the Elementary and Secondary Education office. She believes that increasing the visibility of American Indian education programs is essential for raising new achievement levels for Indian students.
"Because now we'll have authority to be responsible for the administration of these grant programs a little more directly. We can identify research priorities related to the education of our Indian kids and facilitate change that might be necessary."
Ultimately Vasques has one goal: "To make sure that no Indian child is left behind and to do everything I can to make sure we are included in the process from A to Z.