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Congresswoman McCollum's Opening Statement on Indian Education

February 27, 2013
Statements For the Record


Thank you Mr. Chairman.   I join you in welcoming Assistant Secretary Washburn and our other witnesses to the subcommittee this morning.

Education is the cornerstone of the foundation on which we build our future. And, Native American parents, like parents all across this nation, look to a good education as an investment in a better future for their children.

While Indian education is a trust responsibility of the Department of the Interior, it is a moral responsibility for all of us. This morning we will review how those responsibilities are being carried out and see what we can do, working together, to improve the Indian education system.

And let’s face it; there is significant room for improvement in Indian test scores and the delivery of Indian educational services.  In Minnesota, where we pride ourselves on the education of our young people, only 42 percent of Native Americans graduate high school on time.  That rate is half what our state sees for its White students.

We will hear today about long-standing problems that have existed in Indian education. Some of these are a reflection of larger societal issues, some reflect inconsistent direction in the management and delivery of Indian education services, and many are rooted in a history of unacceptably low funding levels.

I have appreciated the fact that we have approached Native American issues in the subcommittee on a bipartisan basis. It is in this spirit that I approach this oversight hearing to see how we can facilitate improvements in Indian education.

In a time of restrained funding, it is a challenge to provide the financial resources necessary to provide a quality education to Native American students. Money alone is not the answer, although it certainly helps, especially when we see the backlog in school construction and the physical state of many Indian education facilities.

The heartbreaking impact of the condition of these schools on Indian children can be heard in the words of a student from Minnesota’s Leech Lake Band. “All thirteen years I’ve been told that education is very important, but it’s hard for me to believe this when I see how my school looks compared to other schools.”

And here we are just two days from implementation of a sequester that will cut more than five percent of federal funding from not only Indian education but from a whole host of programs that serve Native Americans. The adverse impacts on these programs are the poster child for the senselessness of the sequester.

President John F. Kennedy once remarked “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education.” And therein lies the danger with the sequester. There will be no progress under a sequester. In fact, these across the board cuts will do real damage to Indian education and make the job of improving Indian education all that much harder.

Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for holding this hearing on Indian education, and I look forward to the testimony of our witnesses.