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Office of U.S. Representative Melanie Stansbury (D-NM-01)

During a joint oversight hearing of the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States and the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, U.S. Representative Melanie Stansbury (N.M.-01) continued to lead calls for Congress to fully fund Indigenous schools.

Rep. Stansbury recently led a push to increase Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) school construction funding in the FY2023 federal budget in a bipartisan letter signed by 25 of her colleagues to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies. Currently, over 85 of 183 Bureau of Indian Education schools are rated in poor condition, impacting the well-being and academic success of students attending Bureau of Indian Education schools across New Mexico and in tribal nations across the country.

"I have one message this morning, which is please fund Bureau of Indian Education schools,” said Rep. Stansbury. “The federal government has a treaty, trust, and moral responsibility to fund these schools. We signed hundreds of treaties as a nation with our tribal nations. We made commitments over the last 150 years that we would ensure that our Native children had not only an adequate education, but a brilliant education that would help to prepare them for their futures.”

Rep. Stansbury continued her remarks, highlighting the needs of tribal schools in New Mexico-and securing a commitment from Director Dearborn to address the urgent needs of To'Hajiilee Community School.

“In my district, the To’Hajiilee Chapter of the Navajo Nation has a school that desperately needs to be replaced. It was built in a floodplain as a boarding school, and it is no longer adequate. These kids have been sent home. There is not sufficient WiFi for these kids to be learning. And so, Director Dearborn, my plea to you and my ask of you this morning is, will you commit today to make sure that we are meeting the needs of To’Hajiilee Community School, and we are prioritizing that school to get it rebuilt in a safe way so that our kids can go back to school?" said Rep. Stansbury. 

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“Yes, I’ll commit to that. And thank you for your support,” replied Director Dearborn.

The Bureau of Indian Education estimates that over $4.5 billion is needed to address the critical construction backlog for K-12 facilities, with an additional $3.7 billion needed for Tribal Colleges and Universities. In New Mexico, the construction backlog has served as a barrier to quality education for Indigenous communities who for years have been fighting for an equitable and quality education.

Funding to clear the construction backlog would impact Indigenous communities across New Mexico, including the To’Hajiilee Chapter of Navajo Nation as students, teachers, and administrators face disruptions to learning due to maintenance issues. An increase in Congressional funding for the Bureau of Indian Education would help fund salaries for educators, safe school infrastructure, equitable access to high-speed internet for students for virtual learning, and high-quality instruction in Indigenous languages and cultures. 

Video link: Watch below.

U.S. Representative Stansbury’s remarks as delivered can be found below.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you to both of our Chairpersons and our Ranking Members for holding this hearing today. And I want to say thank you to all of our educators who serve on these Committees, and to all of the educators out there who are listening, and thank you for serving our communities. Thank you for serving this vital role in helping lift up our children and help prepare them for their futures.

I have one message this morning, which is please fund Bureau of Indian Education schools. The federal government has a treaty, trust, and moral responsibility to fund these schools. We signed hundreds of treaties as a nation with tribal nations. We made commitments over the last 150 years that we would ensure that our Native children had not only an adequate education, but a brilliant education that would help to prepare them for their futures.

And we need to fund these schools. It is Congress' responsibility, in partnership with the Administration to ensure that we are doing that. And that is why myself and 25 colleagues sent a letter to the Appropriations Committee asking the committee to fully fund our schools, the construction backlog, and to provide support for Tribal Colleges and Universities. I know this is an oversight of the Administration's role in Bureau of Indian Education, but we in Congress also have a fundamental moral responsibility, and a fundamental tribal trust responsibility as well. 

And so it's not only on our Bureau of Indian Education colleagues who are here today, but on us. And so I really want to emphasize that this morning. I want to thank you, Director Dearborn, for being willing to step up and to play this role as the director of these programs. During the Obama administration, I worked at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB)  and was on the panel of individuals that was helping to bring forward some of the reforms for the Bureau of Indian Education.

It's a long road, and I know that we will be working on these issues for many years. I'm grateful for your leadership and your dedication to the schools. As we've been talking this morning, these Bureau of Indian Education schools provide vital education to over 40,000 Native students across the country. I want to emphasize, especially for my colleagues this morning who've been asking questions about school choice, some of these schools are in places where this is the only school that is available for hours of driving.

These schools are historic, they are in communities, they provide tribally and culturally and linguistically appropriate education, and we need to be making sure that we're not only providing the administrative supports for the schools, but that they have adequate funding to replace decrepit buildings and maintenance issues, that they're able to hire these teachers that are from these communities, and that there is the proper bureaucratic structures in place to partner with tribes, to consult with tribes to ensure that we're meeting the needs of those students in those schools.

And that ultimately, if tribal communities want to take control of these schools that they're able to and so all of that takes strong leadership, and addressing many of the issues that have been identified. I want to take just a moment here to emphasize the needs in my district. We have a number of tribally controlled schools and Bureau of Indian Education schools across New Mexico. In my district, the To’Hajiilee chapter, the Navajo Nation has a school that desperately needs to be replaced. It was built in a floodplain as a boarding school. It is no longer adequate. These kids have been sent home. There is not sufficient Wi Fi for these kids to be learning. And so Director Dearborn and my plea to you and my ask of you this morning, is will you commit today to make sure that we are meeting the needs of To’Hajiilee Community School, and we are prioritizing that school to get it rebuilt in a safe way so that our kids can go back to school?

Thank you. Thank you, Director. And I know that these are a priority, obviously, for you, for your staff. I want to thank your staff for their incredible commitment. We also have Pueblo schools across New Mexico that need facilities support, that need help getting staffing and teachers there. But again, before I sign off here with my time, I just want to emphasize, we must fund these schools adequately. This is not about school choice. This is not about having schools that invest too much money, this is about under investment of funds. This is about how the United States historically made commitments to tribal communities that we would provide sufficient funding to educate Native children, and about ensuring that we make good on those promises, that we provide the funding that the U.S. government promised that it would do so, and ensure that we are investing in those schools and all of the supports that our students need. So with that, Mr. Chairman, I thank you for the opportunity to speak this morning and for holding this important hearing.

U.S. Representative Melanie Stansbury (D-NM-01) - logo small