U.S. Sen. Al Franken pushed the Obama administration last week for more federal funds to construct American Indian schools.
The administration increased funding to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, "but unfortunately it has come at the expense of the construction budget," Franken said Thursday during a budget hearing before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, to which he is a member.
"Even accounting for the transfer of over $51 million from construction to operations, there's an almost $9 million decrease in Indian school construction," the Minnesota Democrat said.
"We simply haven't made school construction a priority in the budget, and as a result, you see schools like the Circle of Life School at the White Earth Reservation, which is one of those 14 waiting for completion," Franken said.
While in Bemidji a week ago, Franken visited the Leech Lake Reservation and its Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School.
"They are one of the 64 schools that are waiting for funding in this backlog," he said. "They have been waiting for years."
Since 2004, the BIA hasn't gotten through the initial list of 14 schools that it identified as the worst of the worst and in need of replacement, he said.
"Indian Affairs has never been a priority in the federal budget," said Franken. "From Indian health to education to law enforcement, we have seen woefully inadequate funding across the board. This year, I'm glad to see that the (BIA) budget has prioritized important provisions like contract support for tribal government.
"The reality is that Indian schools, and Indian issues in general, just have not been a federal funding priority," Franken added. While the Obama administration has done more than previous administrations, "we have to do much, much more."