GAO-16-313, March 10

The Department of the Interior’s (Interior) Office of the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs (Indian Affairs) lacks sound information on safety and health conditions of all Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) school facilities. Specifically, GAO found that Indian Affairs’ national information on safety and health deficiencies at schools is not complete and accurate because of key weaknesses in its inspection program, which prevented GAO from conducting a broader analysis of schools’ safety and health conditions. Indian Affairs’ policy requires its regional safety inspectors to conduct inspections of all BIE schools annually to identify facility deficiencies that may pose a threat to the safety and health of students and staff. However, GAO found that 69 out of 180 BIE school locations were not inspected in fiscal year 2015, an increase from 55 locations in fiscal year 2012. Agency officials told GAO that vacancies among regional staff contributed to this trend. As a result, Indian Affairs lacks complete information on the frequency and severity of health and safety deficiencies at BIE schools nationwide and cannot be certain all school facilities are currently meeting safety requirements.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                     

February 25, 2016

Washington, D.C. – At the National Indian Education Association’s (NIEA) annual legislative summit, Senator Barrasso (R-WY), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, announced he was introducing a bill to Congress that would have ramifications for the future of Native education. The Reforming American Indian Standards of Education (S.2580) (RAISE) Act would eliminate the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) and establish an independent Indian Education Agency within the Department of the Interior.

While speaking to NIEA membership about the bill, Senator Barrasso said, “BIA is not an agency equipped to run schools…the [process] needs to be more streamlined with increased accountability.” He went on to say, “My legislation will ensure that the administrators, teachers, and students from tribal communities are being listened to and that their needs are being met. It is an important first step for better transparency and accountability for schools across Indian country.”

Under Barrasso’s plan a director, who would be appointed to a six-year term, would lead the new Indian Education Agency. The new agency’s director would be appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The new agency would also staff two assistant directors, one overseeing education curriculum and the other overseeing facilities management. The bill assumes that by merging all education and administrative offices under the leadership of one agency, a more efficient and functional Indian education system could be established- one that could be responsive to local needs.

NIEA’s Executive Director, Ahniwake Rose said of the bill, “The proposed language is a direct response to the reform needed within the BIE system – and Mr. Barrasso has provided a bold proposal on how to improve the process. I look forward to addressing NIEA membership about the bill to better understand how this action would impact their communities and working with Senator Barrasso to determine what is in the best interest of Native students.”

NIEA will continue to monitor and provide updates to members on the advancement of this bill.

 To read S. 2580, please click here.

Here. An excerpt:

SUMMARY: The Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) announces the availability of grants to tribes and their tribal education departments for projects identified at 25 U.S.C. 2020.
This notice invites tribes with BIE funded schools on or near Indian lands
to submit grant proposals.
DATES: Grant proposals must be received by June 15, 2015, at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. The BIE will hold pre application training sessions, see
SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section for more information.

Here, from Indianz.com.  An excerpt:

LAME DEER, Mont. –– If all goes as planned under new approach to a Lame Deer Elementary School expansion project funded by Impact Aid, students at Northern Cheyenne will start next school year in new classrooms, dine in a new cafeteria and their parents will be assured that their children have a modern and safe school. And, in early 2016, more classrooms, administrative offices and a commons area will be completed.

Stalled for nearly a year due to conflicts between the School, prime contractor, and architect, a $15 million Lame Deer Elementary School expansion project is once again moving along.

“There is a little bad news,” said Bill Parker, Superintendent, “but also a lot of good news – the project is well underway again and we are making good progress.”

Lame Deer Public Schools has received about ten million in Federal Impact Aid funds to construct a significant addition to the Elementary School to address overcrowding and update an aging facility. Started in 2013, the project was organized into two phases with the first awarded to DPS Construction, Boyd, Montana and Spectrum Architects, Billings. Scheduled for completion in January 2014 and underway for approximately a year that job included demolition of a portion of the existing school; construction of new classrooms, restrooms, cafeteria and geothermal water wells. Phase 11 will provides additional classrooms, a commons area and administrative offices.

Disputes between the School and the architect and contractor developed. The school was concerned about unmet construction deadlines, quality of construction and project expenditures while contractors wanted more money. As reported in earlier stories, the School Board terminated contracts with both Spectrum Architects and DPS in the fall of 2013. Then, clean-up of major demolition was not completed. However, Parker pointed out that the local Bureau of Indian Affairs completed that work, saving the school $80,000.

Yesterday, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held an Oversight Hearing on the President’s FY2016 Budget Request for Indian Programs.

The witnesses were:

The Honorable Kevin Washburn
Assistant Secretary- Indian Affairs-U.S. Department of the Interior
View Testimony

The Honorable Yvette Roubideaux
Senior Advisor to the Secretary on Native Americans and Alaskan Natives-U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
View Testimony

Mr. Rodger J. Boyd
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Native American Programs-U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
View Testimony

You can watch the hearing here, and an excerpt from Assistant Secretary Washburn:

In today’s global economy, a high quality education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity—it is a prerequisite to success.  President Obama set out a vision for a 21st century education system, grounded in both high academic standards and tribal values and traditions.  The Indian Affairs’ budget proposes a $1.0 billion investment in Indian education to support a comprehensive transformation of the Bureau of Indian Education.  The proposal recognizes the progress in self-governance in Indian education reflected in the fact Tribal Nations have contracted to run more than two-thirds of Federal Indian schools. 

To view the BIA’s 2016 budget in detail, click here.  An excerpt:

Tribal Education Departments (TEDs) [$2,000,000]:

Tribal Education Departments (TEDs) provide a multitude of services to promoting tribal educational priorities. The goal of these funds is to build the capacity of TEDs so they can coordinate educational services within reservations to better serve all tribal members. These funds will create opportunities to strengthen TED engagement with the multitude of other school systems operating within tribal reservations. These funds would be directed to strengthen the management and oversight of the education programs including BIE funded schools, school operations, adult education, scholarships, and other programs funded by the tribe and other federal agencies, under their jurisdiction. A first step for many tribes is the adoption and updating of tribal education codes to align a tribal education vision with policy. Two million dollars are requested to prioritize tribes with more than three BIE-funded schools on their reservation to establish a tribally managed school system.