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Obama Administration Announces $2.5 Million for Tribal School Improvements

Cross posted from Learning the Language.

By Lesli A. Maxwell

The Obama administration is moving ahead with its plans to improve the federally funded schools that serve tens of thousands of American Indian students with an announcement of $2.5 million in grants to entice tribes to take more control over educating their children.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell--whose agency is responsible for the 47,000 students who are enrolled in Bureau of Indian Education schools--announced the competitive grants.

Last month, 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.

The competitive grants are the first concrete step in that direction.

Ranging from $100,000 to $200,000 per fiscal year, the grants are meant to assist federally recognized tribes that want to assume control over BIE schools that operate on their reservations. Interior Department officials said the grant funds will help tribes develop school reform plans that are tied to goals for improving academic achievement and operational efficiencies.

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

Tribes won't have long to put their proposals together. The deadline for the first grant cycle is Sept. 14.

Revisit Education Week's takeout on the state of Indian education for a deeper look at why schools that serve Native American children are among the lowest-performing.

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