At the eleventh hour, Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, pulled out a save for drastic cuts to Indian education planned by his fellow House Republicans.
The cuts had been widely decried by Native advocacy organizations, tribes, and House Democrats, as they would have stripped millions of dollars in funding and eliminated some successful Indian-focused programs altogether.
The turn of events happened July 18 as Republicans seriously considered the first significant legislative effort to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) since the No Child Left Behind Act of the George W. Bush administration.
As part of their desire to reduce overall federal spending, House Republicans plotted a major reduction in funds for American Indian education, as well as to eliminate Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian education initiatives.
Young, chairman of the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, said he could not allow that to happen, so he inserted an amendment to H.R. 5, known as the Student Success Act, which protected the Indian programs. The amendment passed July 18 as the full House continued debate on the larger bill.
It was a close call, according to Young’s office, which put out a statement saying that if not for the amendment, “H.R. 5 would have killed these programs and also crippled the American Indian grant program, which provides similar benefits throughout the nation.”
“All of these programs, which are authorized under Title VII of the ESEA, have been historically successful,” according to Young’s office. “As H.R. 5 was originally drafted, Title VII programs would have suffered millions of dollars worth of cuts; the Alaska Native Equity program alone was set to lose approximately $32 millionin funding for grants that promote the educational achievement of Alaska Native students.”
Young said he was especially concerned about the possibility of losing culturally-based learning and meaningful education support for Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians.
“Native Alaskan and Native Hawaiian education programs stood to suffer crippling cuts to programs that have shown great improvements since they were enacted,” Young said. “Through the united leadership of the Alaska and Hawaii House delegations, we were able to fend off these cuts, while also making major policy improvements to the programs. Native students continue to face major barriers to their success, and these programs are key to eliminating the disparities that continue to exist between the academic achievement of Native students and their non-Native peers.”
Young has said in the past that some of his fellow House Republicans need much more education on Native programs and their successes in aiding Indian self-determination.
Young further thanked Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R) and Mark Begich (D) and their staffs for developing the policy improvements to the Alaska Native Education Equity Program.
Native advocacy organizations widely called for the passage of the amendment, and they praised its passage.
“The federal government cannot do well by all of America’s children if it continues to do grave disservice to our Native children,” National Indian Education Association President Heather Shotton cautioned in a statement.
A question that remains unanswered is why Republicans were willing to cut successful Indian education programs in an effort to balance the nation’s budget. Indian educators believe that such action would harm the nation and tribal nations in the long run, costing the government more money.
The thinking here, according to some Native-focused legislative observers, is that these programs would not be missed by the general public, which has little understanding of their impact. That scenario tends to result in less political consequences—a problem whenever Indian programs come up for cuts in Congress.
But there are consequences, said Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minnesota, co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, who believes that the attack on “vital education funding for Indian country” amounted to a “partisan” attack on federal trust responsibility to Indian children.
The reality that needs to be understood, McCollum said in a statement, is, “Students throughout Indian country are already bearing the brunt of sequestration’s cuts to education.”
Indian educators, meanwhile, continue their campaigns to educate Congress. The Tribal Education Departments National Assembly (TEDNA), for instance, held its third congressional briefing in as many years on July 11, titled, “Educating Native American Students: The Role of Tribal Education Departments.”
“We want Congress to be paying attention,” said Quinton Roman Nose, executive director of TEDNA, who is grateful for the amendment that protects Indian education funding. “They need to understand.”