Cantwell Tribal School Construction Bill Passes Out of Indian Affairs Committee

SAFTEY Act provides funding certainty to update and replace crumbling school facilities in Indian Country

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) secured unanimous passage of a bill to replace crumbling school facilities in Indian Country during a meeting of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

The SAFETY Act would increase educational opportunities in Indian Country by building and upgrading classrooms, teacher housing, college dormitories and vocational facilities for Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools, Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCU), and state-run K-12 schools with large American Indian and Alaska Native student populations. In addition, the bill would require the BIE to develop a 10-year plan to bring all facilities to “good” condition under the Facilities Condition Index and eliminate the funding uncertainty.

“Education provides opportunities for success. Yet students in Indian Country are held back by the lack of safe, modern classrooms to learn and achieve. The SAFETY Act will help build and upgrade schools and Tribal Colleges and Universities across Indian Country to provide the world-class education and job training all students deserve. Crumbling schools, classrooms and lack of educational resources should not be a roadblock to success for student in Indian Country,” said Senator Cantwell.

Of the 183 BIE schools, 58 are listed in poor condition, and funding for school facility replacement and repairs has fallen by 76 percent over the past decade.

In an October 2014 survey of Tribal Colleges and Universities, The American Indian College Fund found that 83 percent of TCU’s were in high need of student housing facilities, 74 percent were in high need of additional classrooms, and 70 percent were in high need of vocational technical facilities. A 2014 White House Report noted that one of the greatest barriers to attracting educators in Indian Country was a lack of quality, affordable housing.

Specifically, the SAFETY Act would:

  • Authorize an additional $5 million for school construction at TCUs and remove the funding cap that prohibits the federal government from contributing more than 80 percent of the construction cost.
  • Allow tribes to contribute additional funds for construction at BIE educational facilities.
  • Provide teacher housing assistance to Native American communities with BIE schools or public schools with a large number of Native American students.
  • Require the BIE and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to develop a 10-year plan to bring all BIE schools into good condition, similar to OMB’s Defense Department school construction plan.
  • Authorize a study on the infrastructure and facilities needs of local public schools on or near on Indian Reservations.

Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont), vice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee; Al Franken (D-Minn.); and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) are also cosponsors of the SAFETY Act.

The bill will now be considered by the full Senate.