I doubt that anyone would argue the fact that American Indian education, despite small gains, remains in a deplorable condition. Using a sordid comparison with the failing public school system even makes a worse case example.
According to Cindy La Marr, President of the National Indian Education Association, in testimony before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on the FY 2005 Budget Request, nearly 90% of Indian children do not attend federally funded schools in Indian country. Approximately 90% of the over 500,000 tribal elementary and secondary students attend public schools, while around 10% attend BIA supported schools. She further states: “These public schools, often serving a very low-income population and heavily impacted in their funding by the presence of Indian trust lands in their areas, rely on Federal support in the form of Impact Aid, and other programs.”
The first substantial study and report on Indian education was by the 1969 Special Senate Subcommittee on Indian Education: "Indian Education: A National Tragedy - A National Challenge" (also known as the Kennedy Report). One of the results of this report was the 1972 Indian Education Act and the establishment of the Office of Indian Education and the National Advisory Council on Indian Education. Unfortunately, the NACIE is subservient to the U.S. Department of Education and is limited in what it can accomplish.
Amendments to the 1972 Act soon followed: PL 93-380 in 1974; PL 100-297 in 1998; and PL 103-382 in 1994. The last reauthorization amendment was PL 107-110 in 2001, which is known as Title VII Part A of the of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and is part of the No Child Left Behind Act. Title VII Part A was established to assist American Indian and Alaskan Native children in achieving academic standards.
Additional reports to the U.S. Senate and Congress, such as the 1991 INAR “Indian Nations at Risk: A Educational Strategy for Action and the 2003 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report “A Quiet Crisis: Federal Funding and Unmet Needs In Indian Country" made it clear that the needs for the education of American Indian students was not being met.
Although established to provide grants to local educational agencies (schools) that serve American Indian and Alaskan Native students, the Office of Indian Education has turned it’s focus to diverting funds to schools with no Indian students instead. Misuse and mismanagement of funds intended for Indian students has apparently become the OIE standard.
The public exposure of OIE malfeasance and fraudulent Title VII grants to some 25 Arkansas school districts without Indian students over the past few years has hardly caused the OIE to blink an eye. OIE not only approved the grants, despite numerous obvious red flags waving frantically, it also failed to oversee the spending of the monies distributed. The results are millions spent on wireless computer labs and such programs as “Science Chicks” for a K-3 program. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on non-Indian students in these cases, not one single penny for Indian students. Arkansas lauded the OIE grants as a method to replace decreasing state educational funds in the state school system.
The Office of Indian Education, the Arkansas school districts involved, and the organization that orchestrated the fraudulent grant applications (The Lost Cherokee of Arkansas and Missouri), are supposedly under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education - which is the parent agency for the OIE. However, like many federal agencies, the DOE’s internal investigative agency is underpowered and cannot respond fully to all of the fraudulent activity taking place within the DOE. Whether or not this is a planned strategy with the federal government can be open to conjecture, but it does allow agencies such as the DOE to spend funds without oversight. The more funds it can spend, legitimate or not, the more DOE can justify it’s existence and request even more funding.
Add to this is that to-date there has been no budget oversight federal agency, Senator, or Representative, that has expressed any concern over OIE’s practices. Note, however, that if a Tribe fails to dot an “i” or cross a “t” in it’s budget, a large federal hammer immediately falls.
That the Office of Indian Education continues it’s policy of diverting funds to schools that do not meet Title VII requirements is exemplified by the Lamar School District in Johnson County, AR. The 2005 demographics for the Johnson County American Indian/Alaskan Native population pretty well matches the rest of the State at around 0.7%. Both the State of Arkansas and NCES give the American Indian/Alaskan Native population for the school district as less than 1%. Lamar School District has 3 schools with a total student population of around 1,111.
Of that 1,111, Lamar is claiming 203 students as American Indian. The majority, 185, are listed as generic “Cherokee”, the others include (the school district’s spelling, not mine) “Sacks and foxes”, “Chickeshaw”, and “Chocktaw”. If the disparity in the claimed student American Indian population and the general population percentage is not a dead giveaway that something is amiss, the inability to properly spell the supposed tribal affiliations should at least give a hint.
In addition, the 2007-2008 Lamar Title VII grant application is primarily for student improvement in mathematics. Yet, the 2006 End of Course Math scores for Lamar students being at or above proficiency level are constantly higher than the rest of the State. Algebra I scores are at 72%, State average is 65%; Geometry scores are at 63%, State average is 60%, and Grade 8 Math scores are at 58%, whereas State average is 44%. One would think that OIE would have noticed this.
Lamar is not the only school district in Johnson County that has claimed a large American Indian student enrollment that is out of kilter with the rest of the county’s population demographics. Westside School District has also been the beneficiary of OIE’s mismanagement. It claimed that their large American Indian student enrollment were members of the “Lost Cherokee”, the same group that is behind these grant applications. Westside has the dubious distinction of being one of four school districts receiving OIE grants that were placed on probation by the State of Arkansas for failing to meet academic standards. Even for non-Indian students, one would have to question how the money was spent.
Before we excuse the U.S. Department of Education for the excesses committed by it’s child, the Office of Indian Education, DOE itself has doled out money to the tune of almost three-quarters of a million dollars to the same group behind the OIE grants. This money went to the Lost Cherokee of Arkansas and Missouri to establish a parent-student center in Jonesboro, Arkansas - a community with a 0.3% American Indian/Alaskan Native population.
Any diversion of OIE grants from the intended purpose is damaging to the education of American Indian and Alaskan Native children. In today’s budget crunch, both the DOE and the OIE have a fiduciary and moral responsibility to ensure that each grant is provided for the legitimate purpose that the grants were designed for - and that only legitimate recipients are involved.
How the DOE and OIE spend the over one million dollars set aside each year for the next several years for Indian education in Arkansas will be most interesting. A concerning voice from the Indian community about the mismanagement of Title VII funds appears to have no effect. In October 2006 the National Indian Education Association, the oldest and largest Indian education organization, passed a resolution that addressed the OIE problem. Since the DOE and OIE continue on the path they have chosen, it’s clear that they consider input from American Indians as nothing more than a nuisance to be ignored.
However, the mismanagement by OIE with Indian funds is not the only dismal aspect of the agency. It has established a history of discrimination against schools serving Indian students, while apparently giving a free ride to the schools without Indian students that it funds.
That is another story.