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.

An excerpt:

A tribal school in Florida has been granted relief from the most onerous provisions of No Child Left Behind, making it the first tribal school in the nation to win its own waiver from the nation’s main federal education law.

The Miccosukee Indian School joins more than 40 states that have already won flexibility from No Child Left Behind by setting forth an alternative plan to hold their schools accountable. The Miccosukee school’s plan includes academic standards that cover not just math and English, but also the Miccosukee language and culturally relevant science.

It also aims to cut academic achievement gaps at the school in half over the next six years, which means its annual performance targets are different than Florida’s.

“Our standards include rigorous educational benchmarks and reflect the unique history, heritage, tradition, language, culture and values of the Miccosukee Indian Tribe and our people,” said Colley Billie, chairman of the tribe.

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the move Monday, saying it is a sign of the Obama administration’s broader commitment to ensuring that tribes have control of their children’s education.

“This is a historic day,” Jewell said during a ceremony at her office. “It’s all about tribal self-governance, self-determination, and it starts with making sure the people who care most deeply about these children are the people that are making decisions for them.”

To read the entire article on http://www.washingtonpost.com, click here.

An excerpt:

A U.S. Senate report from 1969 describes the federal government’s failure to provide an effective education for Native American children as a “national tragedy and a national disgrace” that has “condemned the [American Indian] to a life of poverty and despair.”

Nearly 50 years later, little has changed, in the view of advocates, lawmakers, and tribal leaders alike. Graduation rates in Indian Country are among the lowest of all student subgroups, and there’s a laundry list of schools in need of significant repairs, some of which lack essentials like heat and running water.

While the vast majority of Native American children attend traditional public schools run by local districts, members of Congress and the Obama administration—both of which have admitted to shouldering some blame for the current situation—are pressuring the Bureau of Indian Education to right its flailing operations at the schools the BIE oversees on or near American Indian reservations.

But since the bureau unveiled its blueprint for reorganizing last year, adjustments to its operations have been slow going, prompting some to question whether it will work. After all, the BIE, which is overseen by the U.S. Department of the Interior, has been beleaguered for decades by rampant staff turnover, lack of expertise, and financial mismanagement. In the last 36 years, it’s cycled through 33 directors.

“Questions have been raised about whether this will address the fundamental problems facing the system or simply rearrange the chairs at the department,” Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., said May 14 during a hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives that addressed the BIE’s shortcomings. “Questions have also been raised about whether this reorganization is being done in a timely manner or being delayed by the same bureaucratic wrangling that has plagued these schools for decades.”

Meanwhile, with Republicans in Congress focused on reducing the deficit and pruning the budget for federal agencies and programs, there’s little new money to be directed toward the problems.

To read the entire article, click here.

The Bureau of lndian Education (BIE) will be conducting consultation meetings to obtain oral and written comments on the restructuring of the BIE. The consultation meetings are a continuation of tribal consultations conducted by the Department of the Interior and the Department of Education in 2014.

DATES: See the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section of this document for dates of tribal consultation sessions. We will consider all comments received by May 15, 2015, 5:00 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time.

ADDRESSES:
See the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section of this document for the locations of these tribal consultation sessions. Submit comments by mail or hand-deliver written comments to:

Jacquelyn Cheek, Special Assistant to the Director, Bureau of Indian Education
1849 C Street, NW, Mailstop 4657-MIB
Washington, DC 20240
facsimile: (202) 208-3112; or e-mail to: IAEDTCCMTS@bia.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jacquelyn Cheek, Special Assistant to the Director, Bureau of Indian Education, telephone: (202) 208-6983.

To see the notice and supplementary information, click here.