Via PBS.org: How safe are Bureau of Indian Education Schools?

An excerpt:

Thousands of children attend schools operated by the federal Bureau of Indian Education, and for years, no one has known for sure if the buildings where they learn, eat and sleep are safe.

That’s one finding from a recent report issued by the Government Accountability Office that has shaken the bureau, which oversees schools that serve about 7 percent of American Indian students — nearly 50,000 schoolchildren — scattered across 23 states mostly in the rural western and southwestern United States.

The report says more than one-third of all 180 school locations have gone longer than one year without health and safety inspections. Of those, 54 sites haven’t been inspected in at least four years. The Bureau of Indian Education mandates annual inspections for all schools.

And among inspected schools, it’s unclear how many of them received improper or incomplete review, said Melissa Emrey-Arras, who directs education, workforce and income security issues for GAO. She said that in one instance, a “drive-by inspection” was conducted for a school complex with 34 buildings.

“They’re at risk of endangering the children they’re charged with protecting,” Emrey-Arras said.

To read the entire article, click here.

Via Edweek.org: Stakes High for Bureau of Indian Education’s Overhaul

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.

Government Accountability Office (GAO): TESTIMONY Indian Affairs: Further Actions on GAO Recommendations Needed to Address Systemic Management Challenges with Indian Education

The BIE is responsible for providing quality education opportunities to Indian students. It currently oversees 185 schools, serving about 41,000 students on or near Indian reservations. Poor student outcomes raise questions about how well BIE is achieving its mission. In September 2013, GAO reported that BIE student performance has been consistently below that of Indian students in public schools.

This testimony discusses Indian Affairs’ management challenges in improving Indian education, including (1) its administration of schools, (2) staff capacity to address schools’ needs, and 3) accountability for managing school construction and monitoring school spending.

This testimony is based on GAO reports issued in September 2013 and November 2014, as well as GAO’s February 2015 testimony, which presents preliminary results from its ongoing review of BIE school facilities. A full report on school facilities will be issued later this year. GAO reviewed relevant laws and regulations; analyzed agency data; and conducted site visits to schools, which were selected based on their geographic diversity and other factors.

GAO has made several recommendations in its earlier reports; it is not making any new recommendations in this statement.

For more information, contact Melissa Emrey-Arras at (617) 788-0534 or emreyarrasm@gao.gov.

To view the highlights page, the testimony in PDF or to read further on the GAO’s website, click here.