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Leaders seek course reversal on lagging support for American Indian students

Minnesota continues to have one of the lowest on-time graduation rates in the nation among its American Indian students — a troubling reality that needs to be addressed quickly to reverse the course of lagging educational support for Minnesota’s nearly 20,000 American Indian K-12 students.

That was the message education leaders from among the state’s 11 Tribal nations delivered to the House Education Finance Committee on Wednesday. No action was taken.

Members of the Department of Education Indian Education Working Group were joined by Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius in presenting their appropriations request that asks for additional state funding for several programs that support public schools districts with a large percentage of American Indian students and each of the state’s four tribal contract schools.

“These are bold recommendations that impact the nearly 20,000 native students in our state who for far too long have been left behind,” Cassellius said.

The presentation followed the department’s annual graduation rate report released Tuesday that revealed only 50.6 percent of American Indian students attending public or tribal schools in Minnesota graduate in four years or less. The state average in 2014 was 81.2 percent.

Although that is an 8 percent improvement from the 2011 graduation rate among American Indian students, such gains have been made despite the disparity in per pupil spending between American Indian students attending tribal contracts and the state average for public school students, said Rocky Papasodora, chair for the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School Board.

To combat that disparity, Indian Education Working Group members are asking for $5.52 million in increased funding over the next biennium for tribal contract schools. The additional dollars would bring the per pupil spending for students in those schools up the state average of $10,000.

Other recommendations from the group include:

  • increased funding for “Success for the Future” state Indian Education program — and transition from a competitive grant to a formula-driven program to support additional districts and schools;
  • support for Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposal to increase annual funding of all federal Title VII recipient schools and districts by $4.5 million;
  • an additional $7.5 million annually to support all districts and schools that enroll American Indian students;
  • appropriating $1.6 million annually to create a new “Early Childhood in Tribal Communities” program that would allow all 11 tribes in Minnesota access to funds to develop community-based family engagement programs; and
  • creating a provision which allows Minnesota to recognize additional alternative high school equivalency test options in addition to the GED.

Rep. Mary Murphy (DFL-Hermantown) praised the merits of the recommendations, the tone of the presentation and called on fellow committee members to carefully consider those proposed solutions.

“It is our obligation and responsibility go through those solutions and recommendations and make a difference with those appropriations and where we are going with our plan for the future.”

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