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Indian Educators Oppose Program Transfer

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The proposed transfer of the Education Department's programs for Indians to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (bia) was the major topic at a recent meeting of the Education Concerns Committee at the 39th convention of the National Congress of American Indians (ncai) held recently in Bismarck, N.D.

The Committee weighed the pros and cons of that issue and a number of others in an attempt to formulate a consistent organizational policy on matters affecting Indian education.

President Reagan's 1983 budget, which has not yet been passed, contained a proposal to transfer all programs authorized under the Indian Education Act.

The office of Indian education in the Education Department was established with the passage of the act, also known as Title IV, in 1972.

Last year, the office spent approximately $77 million serving 300,000 elementary and secondary Indian students.

The budget proposes to provide $51.1 million for the funding of Title IV programs in the bia, a cut of approximately one-third from the current level of funding.

The reasons for the transfer are unclear, says the education concerns committee in an issue paper on the subject.

"Title IV serves an Indian population defined in terms that are different from those used to determine eligibility for bia services," the report states. Generally, Title IV Indian education programs benefit Indian students in the public schools regardless of their tribal affiliation, the report says, but bia education programs serve students based on their tribal affiliation.

Fewer Dollars

"How does the Administration propose to provide the same level of services with one-third fewer dollars?" the report asks.

ncai would like to see the Administration more fully define how the transfer would change the services that Indian students currently receive.

The organization wants to halt the transfer process until Indian tribes have had time to review and comment on the proposal.

In other committee action:

The committee continues to oppose closure of the Intermountain Inter-Tribal Indian Boarding School in Intermountain, Utah. This closing, and the proposed closing of some 20 other federally operated boarding schools, has been stalled in a House committee and is not expected to occur during this fiscal year, said William L. Leap, education coordinator for ncai "The bia's decision to close the school, was made totally without consultation with the affected tribes," the report says.

The committee opposes the system by which the department provides block-grant funds to Indians through state education agencies. This system weakens the government-to-government relationship long expressed to the tribes through federal education services, the committee says.

The committee opposes the proposed transfer of 18 bia-operated schools in Alaska to the state's public-school system. The bia has turned over more than 100 schools to the state since 1959. The ncai feels that tribal villages should be able to "exercise self-determination" on the issue.

"Some villages want them transferred, and that should happen, but some villages don't," he said.--ah

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