The recent government sequester has everybody talking. What is the sequester? What does it mean? Why did it happen? Who is to blame? Well, those are such loaded questions that I will avoid them for the purpose of discussing what the sequester will mean for Native Americans in regard to education.
As some of you may know, but many of you may not, the Federal government is responsible, through treaty obligations, for providing a quality education for Native Americans living on reservations around the country. But, when the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) is impacted by the drastic budget cuts from the sequester, this will be a fatal blow that will force some BIE schools to close. This would be extremely detrimental to the tribal members living on any reservation affected, and it could also pose a legal minefield of sorts for the United States government, which is bound by specific treaties with some tribes and also the creation and mission of the BIE to provide members of federally recognized tribes with a quality education.
Moreover, many Native American tribes struggle with poverty – it exists on many reservations at a much higher rate than anywhere else in the U.S. In fact, it has been stated that “while 70 percent of adults (age 25 or older) with incomes below poverty threshold have at least a high school diploma or equivalent, adults without a high school diploma are much more likely than other adults to experience income poverty.” This is particularly significant because, on the reservations where we work, the rate of high school dropout ranges from 30 to 70%. So, this paints a very bleak picture for education as the sequester impacts reservations around the country.
By reducing funding for, or eliminating the facilities for, the quality education promised to them by the United States, the tribes are the ones who suffer. And, as the tribes experience poverty at much higher rates, this is like adding gasoline to an already burning fire.
With the BIE system already experiencing struggles from lack of funding, the sequester will exacerbate the problems that already exist for many tribes. Things like school buildings falling into disrepair and inadequate funding for hiring teachers are just the tip of the iceberg. The BIE needs to continue to receive funding from the Federal government to ensure educational opportunities for tribal members. The sequester is indeed impacting many programs and ethnic groups around the country, but to strip financial resources from a segment of the population that not only depends on this funding, but has been promised the very things the funding was intended for, is appalling to me.
So, when you really examine the 2013 sequester cuts that will be enacted, it becomes clear that it is a bad thing… for so many programs and the people they serve. I am biting my tongue, but I know the effects of this sequester will ripple through the lives of many Americans and American Indians – a million miles away from those in Washington that allowed this to happen. And for the child attending school on the reservation, and his little brother or sister in Head Start….well, it will just be awful.
When I think about the $2 million cut “affecting 6,700 students who live on Indian lands,” or the 33% of American Indian students living in poverty “as compared to only 12% of their white peers,” or “Indian Head Start taking a nearly $12 million cut” when early childhood education is so important, or the $1 million cut to the Window Rock Unified School District, or the major cuts to post-secondary education facing Sitting Bull College (Northern Cheyenne), Fort Peck Community College (Assiniboine Sioux), and Little Big Horn College (Crow Agency)… well, it hurts to think about it.
We hope you will take the time to get informed about the sequester by state, and its impact on education, and to contact your Senator as a concerned citizen. Everyone in this country has a stake in whether children, including American Indian children, get a quality education and grow up to be self-sufficient.