Quileute & Yakama Tribal Schools are Cantwell’s Focus at Senate Hearing

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a hearing of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) today pressed Lawrence Roberts, Acting Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs, on priorities for the Quileute and Yakama Nation tribal schools.

Cantwell asked Secretary Roberts for a specific timeline on funding that was announced yesterday for the Quileute tribal school – which is seeking to relocate out of a tsunami zone.

“There’s no timeline for funding [of the Quileute school], they’re in a tsunami zone…I feel like there’s too much mystery left here,” said Cantwell, a senior member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

In response to Senator Cantwell, Roberts confirmed that the Quileute Tribal School will receive funding.

“We have funding to provide [the Quileute tribal school] them with planning, to start with the planning process for replacement and that will happen this year.”

Cantwell also spoke about the need to eliminate the uncertainty of Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) funding requirements and future availability, which is affecting Tribes like the Yakama Nation who are seeking to replace schools.

“I also want to bring up the Yakama’s because that’s another example of confusing criteria,” said Cantwell. “This is about dilapidation and unacceptable conditions…but I feel like every year it’s a mystery…the fact that it’s not categorized in a way that is transparent enough leaves us short of the resources we need for Indian Country.”

Roberts stated that BIE is working to fix that process.

Cantwell recently introduced the SAFETY Act, a bill that would require BIE to develop a 10-year plan to bring all facilities to “good” condition under the Facilities Condition Index and eliminate the funding uncertainty.

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. Cantwell’s bill would increase educational opportunities in Indian Country by building and upgrading classrooms, teacher housing, college dormitories, STEM labs, and vocational facilities for BIE schools, Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCU), and state-run K-12 schools with large American Indian and Alaska Native student populations.

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.