Of the 185 Indian schools in the United States managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the majority -- especially those in Montana, New Mexico, and South Dakota -- face financial problems despite small improvements in funding.
The problem is that while Congress has increased the amount of money dedicated to renovating school facilities, the level of funding for classroom programs has remained the same for more than four years.
John Cheeks of the Muskogee Creek Nation, executive director of the National Indian Educational Association says funding over the past few years "has not gotten better or worse really. It has been fairly level."
At the same time, costs have risen. This puts Indian schools at a disadvantage. Cheeks says. "The government is not taking into account the unique setting and circumstances facing Indian schools in evaluating them against public schools," he told Stateline.org in an interview.
While public schools receive both state and federal funding, Indian schools only get funding from the federal government.
To make matters worse, funding for Indian schools is likely to drop in the 2003 budget cycle. The new federal budget will include a big increase in spending for homeland security, and many fear this will lead to offsetting cuts that will divert money from education.
If the government makes across the board cuts in in education, Cheeks expects cuts of about 5-10% from the $500 million that goes to classroom programs. Such cuts will inevitably result in rising drop out rates and lower student performance levels, he says.
South Dakota, New Mexico, and Montana are likely to face the biggest problems, Cheeks and other experts said.
Dr. Roger Bordeaux, executive director of the Association of Community Tribal Schools in South Dakota, said a fundamental "structural funding problem" is plaguing Indian schools. The Indian schools in South Dakota cannot keep pace with the public schools, because the public schools receive both state and federal monies, he said.
More to the point, he said, "the funds we do receive do not keep up with the rising standard of living in the US. There is a gap of 900 dollars between what each Indian student needs and what she or he receives."
Other western states such as Montana face similar problems. The U.S. Civil Rights Commission's Montana Advisory Committee reports that Indian schools face a "crisis situation" in which the dropout rates of Indian students double those of non-Indian students in Montana.