Native American Students, Educators, See Hard Times Ahead

Sequestration cuts loomed over the nation briefly before being enacted on March 1. In 2013 alone there will be federal spending cuts totaling $85 billion, which is making educators squirm. The National Indian Education Association, a nonprofit that advocates for the education of Native American students, says that across the nation, budget cuts totaling more than $60 million will carve into key programs, affecting the operations of 710 schools serving primarily Native American students. In total, about 115,000 Native American students will be impacted.

Native American students often live on reservations where the federal government cannot assess property taxes, which are used to contribute to the running and maintaining of educational facilities. In place of those property taxes, there is Impact Aid, which is a program of the Department of Education that provides funds to offset the money that otherwise would have come from property taxes. According to a three-part series from the Indian Country Today Media Network, journalist Tanya Lee states that Impact Aid was immediately affected by the cuts; this type of loss will have an impact on Native American students from birth through college.

Of all the states, Arizona receives the most Impact Aid, reports Lee. Debra Norris is the associate superintendent of Native American Education and Outreach for the Arizona Department of Education.

“Native American students are experiencing a large achievement gap at the same time that [state] standards are being raised. As Common Core is put into effect, there will be more math and science requirements for graduation. All of these things mean increased needs for Native American students.”

Aside from the direct effect of cutting Impact Aid, there are further complexities that are not easily resolved. For those Native Americans living on Indian reservations, typically in remote, rural areas, access to transportation and in turn, education, is limited. The US Census Bureau reports that about one-third of Native Americans live on reservation land and are disadvantaged when it comes to access to higher education.

CNN’s Dan Merica reported that Gallup-McKinley County School District, in New Mexico, is struggling under the cuts of Impact Aid due to its proximity and the high numbers of Native American students within the district.

“We aren’t going to be able to educate them in the way we would like to because we don’t have the funds to do it,” district-leader Ray Arsenault told CNN. Arsenault’s furthest school in Gallup-McKinley is 103 miles away.

“I bus three million miles a year to get the students to and from school,” Arsenault said of the district.

The distance and thus the need for transportation means that consolidating programs is not possible, and areas including library budgets will likely be slashed in the coming school year.

Similar problems are occurring for Jeff Bisek, superintendent of the Mahonomen Public School District in Minnesota on the White Earth Reservation, serving 612 K-12 students, about 70 percent being Native American. Bisek is looking at the possibility of eliminating one bus route, meaning longer riding times for students, and cutting an afterschool homework club program from four days a week to two. Currently, Bisek provides transportation at 5:30, using Impact Aid funds to provide transportation up to 25 miles away. Without that means of transportation, the students could in turn lose out on extracurricular activities due to the proximity issue.

Education is the stepping stone for prosperity in native communities. At Dyron Murphy Architects, we know the value of innovative, functional, and well-funded educational facilities; creating them is one of our passions.

Stay informed with us on the sequester and other obstacles for native students. Read more of this discussion on Monday, July 15.

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