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Proposed Shift of Indian Education From E.D. Raises Concerns

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Washington--All Indian-education programs now housed in the U.S. Department of Education would be transferred to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (bia) under the Administration's 1983 budget proposal, according to an Administration source.

Two Major Systems

But such a proposal must be passed by Congress, and several people involved in Indian education warned that the matter is far from settled. Currently, there are two major systems in the federal bureaucracy that share responsibility for Indian education.

The oldest is the bia, established in 1836, which operates schools for approximately 30 percent of the "federally recognized" Indian children.

"Federally recognized" is the term the government uses to describe tribes with which it has entered into a "government-to-government" relationship through treaty, trust agreement, executive order, or court action.

Last year, according to a spokesman, the bureau spent $159 million serving 42,000 elementary- and secondary-school students.

The office of Indian education in the U.S. Education Department was established with the passage of the Indian Education Act (PL 92-318,Title IV) in 1972, as part of what was then the education office of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

Last year, the office spent approximately $74 million serving 300,000 elementary- and secondary-school students.

An official in the office estimates that there are 180,000 Indian students in the public schools who are also eligible for bia funding under the 1934 Johnson-O'Malley Act, which provides money to Indian students who are in public schools on or near reservations.

The Administration's proposal would send the Indian-education office's functions to the bureau as part of its dismantling of the Education Department, with a fiscal 1983 budget reduction to $51 million for all Indian- education programs in the bureau.

William L. Leap, education coordinator for the National Congress of American Indians (ncai), warned against looking at this proposal as the final word on the matter.

"I am very concerned about the amount of political football that is being made out of the transfer of the office of Indian education," he said.

'Manipulating People'

"There are a lot of people who are manipulating people by claiming to know things and spreading rumors," according to Mr. Leap. "In order for Title IV to be transferred, there must be legislation, Congress must approve it, and to date, no such legislation has been sent to the Congress. It seems unwise to conclude that Title IV is being transferred when the basic mechanism for transferring it has yet to be made public."

Mr. Leap's organization is the largest advocacy group for Indians in the country, representing 170 tribes.

Frank A. Ryan, director of Indian-education programs in the Education Department, said he had not seen the proposal, but "if it turns out that's what the Administration is going to do, I support the Administration. As far as I know, this would just change the locus," he said.

'Totally Tentative'

Joann S. Morris, an educational-policy fellow at the department, noted that the plan is "totally tentative, and dependent on Congress."

"Secretary [of Education Terrel H.] Bell has assured the staff that he wants to keep Indian-education functions within the department," she added. "It would be disastrous to send them to bia They're not accustomed to running programs off the reservation."

Gabe Paxton, acting director of the office of Indian education programs in the Department of Interior, was not available for comment.

The proposed transfer of the Title IV functions to the bia was listed as one of the major concerns of a group of Indian educators who gathered here recently for an "emergency meeting" on the status of Indian-education programs in the federal government.

Educators Discuss Future

Some 80 Indian educators, including representatives from the education-concerns committee of the ncai, the National Indian Education Association, the National Adult Indian Education Association, the American Indian Head Start Directors' Association, and the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, came to Washington to discuss what the future holds.

They also visited individual congressmen and senators to remind them of what the groups say is the government's "trust responsibility" to Indian education, stated in the Federal Code of Regulations and based on treaties and court actions.

Partially as a result of lobbying that occurred during the Indians' meeting last month, committees in both the Senate and the House of Representatives have scheduled oversight hearings to examine the status of federally budgeted Indian programs, including education programs.

The Indians also received encouraging news on another of their concerns--implementation of education block grants. Indian tribes want 2 percent of the block-grant funds to come directly to them without handling by state education departments or local education agencies.

Open to Suggestions

Such a system was originally included in the Education Department's block-grants proposal, they point out. During their meetings, the Indians heard from Robert B. Carleson, special assistant to the President for policy development, that the Administration is open to suggestions from the Indian tribes regarding "how tribes or reservations could be involved in a block-granting process."

"I asked them for advice on how this could be done," he said in a later interview. "Keeping in mind that in some instances it's not convenient for them to go through state and local governments."

In response, said Mr. Leap of ncai, the education-concerns committee "will by the end of the month draft a set of block-grants guidelines which will be sent to the White House."

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