Last month I visited Washington, D.C. with Laird Jones, Vice President of the National Johnson-O’Malley Association (NJOMA), for a series of meetings with Members of Congress, White House Domestic Policy Staff, and the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE). These meetings were regarding the Johnson-O’Malley (JOM) program, specifically, the student count issue. During our meeting with Dr. Charles Roessel, Director of BIE, we learned that the Bureau intends to now follow the 2014 Congressional directive to conduct a comprehensive student count of eligible JOM students, and that they anticipate meeting the September 30, 2014 deadline for reporting the results to Congress. BIE has sent a notice letter to tribal leaders dated July 24, 2014 regarding the count. The submission period runs from July 1, 2014 until September 15, 2014 – two weeks prior to the date by which they must report the numbers to Congress. Frankly, it concerns me greatly that the BIE has, so far, only sent the letter to tribal leaders and has not begun any broad outreach to Indian Country as a whole. To our disappointment, this looks and feels like the same process the Bureau used to conduct their incomplete student count update in 2012, the results of which are yet to be released.
Based on U.S. Census data obtained by Representative Tom Cole’s (R-OK) office, we know that there are nearly a million Native students attending public schools that are entitled to JOM funds. Only 278,000 students are currently funded to receive these funds and, as the leading advocate for the JOM program, we want to ensure that all students entitled to funds are counted and funded.
In an effort to both broaden the Bureau’s outreach and expedite the notice process to Indian Country, NJOMA wants to spread the word that a count is happening and that the clock is ticking. It is imperative that all eligible students are counted so that the Bureau and Congress can see how many Native students entitled to JOM funds are out there. Without an accurate count, lawmakers cannot and will not provide the kind of funding the JOM program needs. NJOMA implores Indian Country to reply to BIE’s notice, be counted, and spread the word to others so that Washington, D.C. gets a more accurate picture of Native populations and can adjust funding levels accordingly.
I want to urge tribes, school districts, existing and potential JOM contractors to contact BIE to be counted. Please take a moment to contact the BIE, via the web or telephone, and tell them that you want to be counted. It is imperative for the community that everyone be counted. They should have the requisite forms online this week. Their website is BIE.edu. For any questions, you can contact BIE at (202) 208-3559.
Carla Mann, member of the Blackfeet/Eastern Shoshone Tribe residing on the Wind River Indian Reservation, is President of the National Johnson O’Malley Association (NJOMA). NJOMA is a national nonprofit, educational organization that continually engages in coalition-building and strives to partner with Indian education supporters around the country.