Sens. Franken, Klobuchar, Reps. Peterson, McCollum, Ellison, Walz, Nolan, Paulsen Make Bipartisan Push to Increase Support for Dilapidated Tribal School Buildings

Feb 12, 2016 Issues: Congressional Issues

WASHINGTON, DC [02/04/16]—U.S. Sen. Al Franken was joined by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and Reps. Collin Peterson, Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison, Tim Walz, Rick Nolan, and Erik Paulsen in a bipartisan push to fix tribal schools that have fallen into disrepair in Minnesota and across the country, including the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in Northern Minnesota.

In a letter to the White House, the group of Minnesota lawmakers pressed for more funding to fix and rebuild schools in Indian Country like the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School, which is plagued by numerous problems—poor construction, electrical issue, mold, lack of classroom space, and limited handicap access.

“The substandard conditions at these [tribal] schools—including in our state of Minnesota—are not conducive to educational achievement, and they unfairly restrict learning opportunities for the Native youth attending these schools,” wrote the group. “We have seen the deplorable conditions of these schools first hand in our state. The Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School in Minnesota is in dire need of replacement.

You can read a copy of the letter here.

Sen. Franken, a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, started pressing the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) to fix schools in need of repair in 2009. He’s raised this topic in many hearings over the years, and he has consistently pressed the Secretary of the Interior—who oversees funding for schools on Indian Country—to increase support for school construction. Sen. Franken has also pressed the White House on funding for Indian school construction several times, including in a call he had with the budget director earlier today. While Sen. Franken has been able to successfully fight for more funding to help Indian school construction around the country, the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig remains underfunded, and he will continue working to fully repair or rebuild the school.           

Senator Klobuchar has been a strong advocate for federal funding to replace the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig-High School. She has pushed the Administration to address BIE school construction backlog and written to the Appropriations Committee urging strong funding for school construction. In 2014, after Klobuchar and the delegation wrote to the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) inviting DOI leadership to the school, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn visited the school in August 2014 and saw the conditions firsthand.

Collin Peterson is the Ranking Member on the House Committee on Agriculture, and is a strong advocate for funding for rural schools. Congressman Peterson is a consistent supporter of rural and tribal schools which are an important part of our state’s economic future.

Congresswoman McCollum is the ranking Democratic member on the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee and the Democratic co-chair of the Native American Caucus.

Congressman Walz began his teaching career on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and understands the critical need for improvements to our Indian schools. He will continue to press for proper funding to ensure students have a safe environment to learn.   

Congressman Nolan, who represents five of the six Bands of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, has been an outspoken proponent of funding to bring 63 dilapidated and dangerous BIE schools across the nation up to standard. Included in the Education reauthorization bill (H.R. 5) approved in December 2015 was Nolan’s bipartisan amendment declaring: “It is . . . the policy of the United States to ensure that Indian children do not attend school in buildings that are dilapidated or deteriorating, which may negatively affect the academic success of such children.”  That amendment passed the House unanimously during earlier debate on the measure.

Congressman Paulsen has highlighted the issues that plague Bureau of Indian Education schools, such as the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig school, on the House floor. He has also pressed the Department of Interior to continue its work to begin a new round of funding for the Campus-wide Replacement Program. While Congress has made progress in providing adequate funding for the BIE, he looks forward to continuing his work on making sure every student has access to the highest quality education possible.