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Obama Budget Seeks $1 Billion for Native American Schools, Youth Programs

The Obama administration says it will ask Congress for $1 billion next year to run schools for Native American children—including millions in new money to help fix crumbling buildings.

The request—$150 million more than what is in the current budget—would allot nearly $60 million in new funding for school construction. The fiscal 2016 budget, which the White House intends to unveil on Monday, would also boost funding for a host of programs that support Native youth and education in Indian Country. A White House fact sheet provides a bulleted list of proposals.

With tribal schools crumbling across the country, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said she is aware the new funding would barely make a dent in the $1 billion-plus maintenance budget backlog at the federal Bureau of Indian Education. Roughly 60 of the 183 tribal schools and dormitories the federal government funds are falling apart because of age or poor maintenance

"That's as far as we could reasonably go" in the current budget climate, Jewell said in defending the budget proposal. Jewell added that "adequate facilities is one element of a good education for students."

Often plagued by high dropout rates and poor student academic performance, the federally funded schools educate about 48,000 students in 23 states.

Jewell joined U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other officials on a conference call Thursday to preview the budget and discuss the Obama administration's plans.

Since the president visited Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation in North Dakota last summer, the White House has touted several initiatives focused on Native American youth, including plans to give tribes more control over the schooling of their children. Most BIE schools are located on reservations.

The budget proposal includes $75 million—a 20 percent increase over the current budget—to fully fund tribal costs of administering their own education programs and also seeks $34 million to expand the schools' Internet capabilities.

"I appreciate the president's proposal to make significant new investments in tribal education and do so in ways that enhance tribal governments," Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a co-chair of the Congressional Native American caucus, said in a statement.

"In the days ahead, as my colleagues in the House and Senate seek to find common ground with the Administration, I remain hopeful that we can make significant progress in Indian country during this session of Congress."

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