Sunday, March 29, 2015

Education funding and equity major issues facing Native American Nations

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – The most recent meeting of the Native American Caucus focused on education funding cuts and equity issues.
“The budget cuts disproportionately affect Native American students, especially those in rural tribes. I don’t think it was political; that’s just the way it turned out,” Rep. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson (District 9), said.

The new budget cuts nearly $10 million from the 33 school districts on Native American Nations from funds that are used to purchase classroom supplies and maintain facilities.  

Rep. Albert Hale, D-St. Michaels (District 7), raised concerns about transportation issues that many Native American students who live in remote areas must overcome.  
“I know that transportation costs are tremendous for some of our schools,” Hale said. “The budget cuts will make that burden more difficult to bear. There are schools in the Window Rock School District that are already having issues. This budget will worsen the situation.”
Steele warned that the cuts to Joint Technical Education Districts will have long-lasting economic consequences. Currently, there is one centralized JTED located within the Navajo Nation, and there are eight satellite campuses on reservations across the state. Each location will lose $345 per participant in fiscal year 2017.
“This will basically destroy the JTED program,” Steele said. “Many people will not get the skills and training they need to prepare for a job after high school, which jeopardizes the future economic stability of our communities.”
Janice Palmer, Arizona School Boards Association director of governmental relations and public affairs, said she expects additional education cuts at the federal level and discussed the need for equity in education.
“We are trying to change the conversation to focus on equity. Each student requires different resources and support to have an equal opportunity for success. One child might need breakfast; another child may need a speech pathologist and a teacher’s aide, while another may need help with English proficiency,” Palmer said. “Each of these services may not be ‘equal,’ however they are all required for individual students to have an equal chance for a quality education.”
Palmer added that the Arizona School Boards Association is partnering with Helios Education Foundation and West Ed to host The Equity Event from April 8 through April 10 in Phoenix to find ways to solve the educational achievement gaps. More information about the conference is available at
Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson (District 3), said she decided to run for elected office so that she could help close the educational achievement gap.  
“Equity is something that I, as an educator and as a parent, have been talking about all of my adult life,” Gonzales said. “We have been struggling with this issue for decades, and it needs more attention.”
Hale agreed.
“Statistically, Native American students are at the bottom of a lot of lists, including high school graduation rates,” he said. “That needs to change.”  
At the conclusion of the meeting, Rep. Jennifer Benally, D-Tuba City (District 7), urged those attending to encourage more people to participate in the political process.
“We need more people to get involved, especially those on the reservations. When people make their voices heard, change happens. If we don’t say anything, then we will be ignored,” Benally, who is a retired Navajo Nation district court judge, said. “As a judge, I saw what the lack of education did to people, and we absolutely have to speak out for equitable opportunities. We absolutely need to have a voice.”