WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) joined members of the National Indian Education Association in a virtual discussion on how the Bureau of Indian Education and Tribally-controlled schools have been impacted by the pandemic.
In the recently-passed American Rescue Plan, Senator Heinrich helped secure $1.1 billion for Native education programs—including $850 million for the Bureau of Indian Education, $190 million for Tribal education agencies and Native Hawaiian and Alaska Native education programs, and $20 million in emergency grants to address the impacts of the pandemic on the preservation of Native languages.
Senator Heinrich’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below.
Thank you so much for joining me today to share your perspectives on how Bureau of Indian Education and Tribally-controlled schools have been impacted over this past year.
I don’t have to tell you that there are many challenges that you face—especially in terms of maintenance and infrastructure backlogs—that predate the pandemic.
But before we get into all of that, I would just like to take a moment to offer my sincere appreciation for all that educators have done to go above and beyond in service to students and families.
Your schools have served as the centers of support for Tribal communities who have been devastated by the public health and economic disasters.
You’ve worked tirelessly to keep students engaged in their education and helped their families keep food on the table and roofs over their heads.
We all know that many Tribal communities have been acutely impacted by Covid-19.
But I’d like us to focus this meeting on how we can build a stronger future for BIE and Tribally-controlled schools.
As we rebuild our country, we have an opportunity to take big, bold action to invest in the next generation—and finally meet our federal government’s trust responsibility to support Tribal education.
Every child should have access to a high quality education.
That starts from when a child is born through early childhood development and then a K-12 education in a healthy learning environment that puts them on the path to success.
I have been laser focused in recent years on securing the dedicated funding we need to finally make real progress on BIE’s long-running maintenance and school construction backlog.
I raised one example of this long-running challenge during Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland’s confirmation hearing.
Laguna Elementary School, which she said she attended nearly 50 years ago, has been at the top of the school replacement list.
Unfortunately, it has taken years to finally get the project to replace its poorly functioning campus underway.
I am hopeful that Secretary Haaland’s confirmation in the Senate yesterday will help us bring a new focus on this challenge to the highest levels of President Biden’s administration.
We also need to make sure we can implement all of the funding that Congress has passed over this last year to support BIE and Native education programs.
I am focused through my new role on the Senate Appropriations Committee on ensuring we are fully funding BIE and other important Tribal programs.
Last year, I fought for and won the inclusion of $475 million in funding to specifically address BIE’s deferred maintenance backlog as part of the larger Great American Outdoors Act.
That will go a long way toward finally tackling the estimated $600 million in deferred maintenance needs at BIE schools.
We need to implement this funding expeditiously.
We just passed more than $1.1 billion for Native education programs as part of the American Rescue Plan that President Biden signed into law just last week.
The American Rescue Plan is the single greatest dedicated federal investment we have ever made in Indian Country.
There is more than $31 billion to provide immediate relief for Tribal governments, to invest in broadband and clean water infrastructure, and to support the public health and vaccine distribution campaign in IHS.
The education funding in the American Rescue Plan includes $850 million for the BIE and $190 million for Tribal education agencies and Native Hawaiian and Alaska Native education programs.
It also includes $20 million in emergency grants to address the impacts of the pandemic on the preservation of Native languages.
This emergency funding in the American Rescue Plan comes on top of the $973 million of appropriations for BIE and Tribally-controlled schools that Congress passed in the last December’s overall federal funding agreement.
I would urge all of the NIEA members on this call to work with us in Congress to make sure that all of this funding is put to good use so we can provide the resources our educators need and the learning environments that our children deserve.
Finally, before I finish, I wanted to let you all know about one other area that I have been focused on that relates to your work.
Alongside Senator Susan Collins, I have been working to promote adoption of two-generation, or whole family approaches, to better deliver support services to children and their families simultaneously.
We have seen some real success in implementing this approach on the Navajo Nation through the Family and Child Education program, or FACE.
The FACE program uses the two-generation approach to focus on school readiness through culturally responsive education and provides resources for American Indian families with children through grade three.
Since it began in 1991, the FACE program has served more than 20,500 Native American families.
Schools are central to making this type of service delivery to children and families effective all across the country.
I am a strong believer in community schools and recognize that our educators do so much more than just education.
We need to support this critical work.
That’s why I am pleased that we are including BIE schools in the Full Service Community Schools Expansion Act.
That legislation, which was introduced last month, would greatly expand federal resources and technical support to help schools provide integrated support for their students’ nutrition and physical and mental health.