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Six Tribes Receive First Federal Grants to Assume More Control Over Schools

The Obama administration has awarded a series of small grants to Native American tribes that it says will help spur improvements to the network of federally funded schools that serve tens of thousands of American Indian students.

Last week, the U.S. Department of the Interior—the federal agency that oversees the Bureau of Indian Education—announced that six tribes will each receive $200,000 in so-called "Sovereignty in Indian Education" enhancement funds. The small awards are part of the administration's push to improve the quality of schooling provided by the Bureau of Indian Education, which includes some of the lowest-performing public schools in the country. Thumbnail image for pine-ridge-loneman-500px.jpg

Tribes receiving the funding are:

• Gila River Indian Community; Sacaton, Ariz.
• Standing Rock Sioux Tribe; Fort Yates, N.D.
• Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, Belcourt, N.D.
• Tohono O'Odham Nation, Sells, Ariz.
• Navajo Nation, Window Rock, Ariz.
• Oglala Sioux Tribe, Pine Ridge, S.D. (To get a deeper understanding of the particular schooling challenges on the Pine Ridge reservation, read Education Week's special coverage from late last year.)

 About 47,000 students are enrolled in Bureau of Indian Education schools, most of which operate on reservations.

Last summer, President Barack Obama rolled out his vision for a new and improved BIE, a long-troubled agency that directly operates 57 schools for Native American students and oversees 126 others run under contract by tribes. That "Blueprint for Reform" lays out steps to reorient the BIE from an agency that operates schools from Washington to a "school improvement organization" that provides resources and support services to schools that are controlled by tribes.

Federal officials have said the grant funds will the help tribes develop school reform plans that are tied to goals for improving academic achievement and correcting operational efficiencies.

Tribal education departments that have three or more Bureau of Indian Education schools on their reservations were eligible for the grants. The administration's overall plan to improve BIE has faced skepticism from some leaders in Indian Country, where distrust toward the agency runs deep among tribal leaders and educators.

Photo: Horses graze outside the Loneman School, a Bureau of Indian Education school operated by a locally elected school board on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.—Swikar Patel/Education Week

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