Update on Recovery Act funds for education

WASHINGTON – As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, tribes are beginning to see money going toward education. Funds have trickled down to select schools and educational programs, but the exact dollar amounts are pending for many.

Dante Desiderio, an economic development policy specialist for the National Congress of American Indians, said tribal colleges fared poorly in the distribution of stimulus dollars.

“There was a push early on, and it was included in the Senate version to have forward funding for tribal colleges, which is a huge issue for budgeting purposes, but that actually fell off in the House version and never made it to the final bill.”

The Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque, N.M. may be one of the lucky few to snag some stimulus dollars. Reports state the college will receive $1.8 million for school projects, which includes re-roofing a building to prepare it for solar panels and the replacement of hot water lines.

Additionally, nearly $5 million has been allocated for Title II educational technology grants earmarked for BIE schools to prepare, train and recruit teachers and principals. Specific schools and colleges have yet to be named.

Desiderio said the NCAI is conducting a long-term study on how Recovery Act funds are being distributed throughout Indian country.

Meanwhile, the Interior Department has proposed an estimated $135 million for the BIE to carry out construction projects at five reservation-based schools.

Three of the schools within the Navajo Nation are slated to receive funding. The Rough Rock Community School in Chinle, Ariz. will receive funds to build a new K-12 school and a residential dorm to house 266 students.

The Kaibeto Boarding School in Kaibeto, Ariz. will construct a new K-12 school and residential dorm to house 45 students. Funds earmarked for Pueblo Pintado Community School in Cuba, N.M., will go toward building a residential dorm for 95 students.

In the Great Plains, the Ojibwa Indian School in Belcourt, N.D. will use stimulus funds to construct a bus garage, and the Crow Creek Tribal School in Stephan, S.D. is slated to build a new K-12 school, and residential dorm that will house up to 160 students.

Funds for all five schools include supporting infrastructure, housing and demolition. No dates have been set for the groundbreakings.

The Flandreau Indian School in eastern South Dakota has received $23 million from the state’s Recovery Act dollars. The funds will be used to update and repair aging buildings, including dorms, and to upgrade heating and cooling systems.

Other qualifying BIE schools could see a piece of the $400 million in school construction tax bonds for calendar year 2009-10. “We are still trying to figure out how the construction tax credits are going to work,” Desiderio said. “It could help tribal colleges, but I think it’s going toward BIE (K-12) schools.”

The NCAI estimates BIE schools could receive up to $72 million for Title I – Education for the Disadvantaged – in the form of grants, and more than $12 billion is likely to be set aside for BIE schools under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

According to the NCAI Recovery Act Web site, the statutory tribal set-aside for IDEA has not been reflected in the U.S. Department of Education’s calculations for stimulus funding.

Tribal Head Start programs have been allocated $10 million for this fiscal year. If half of the funding is distributed this year, another $10 million will be earmarked for fiscal year 2010. There is a possible cost of living adjustment of up to $9 million, based on the existing statutory formula.

The Head Start program provides grants to public profit and nonprofit agencies to give economically disadvantaged preschoolers and children the tools to develop strong reading and math skills to be successful in school.

To help disabled adults find new careers, $680 million in grants are being made available through the states for existing tribal vocational rehabilitation programs. These programs train disabled individuals in a new profession geared toward their capabilities and preferences.

The Education Department reported that more than $30 billion in stimulus money was earmarked toward making higher education affordable for more Americans.

The Pell Grant Program received $17 billion, which will boost grants for students from $500 to $5,350 the first year, and even more the second year. The program serves an estimated seven million low- to moderate-income college students.

Nearly $14 billion in stimulus cash has boosted the tuition tax credit from $1,800 to $2,500 for families earning less than $180,000 annually.

For up-to-date information on how the Recovery Act is benefiting education in Indian country visit www.indiancountryworks.org.