American Indian leaders on Wednesday called on state lawmakers to increase support for American Indian education.
The plea comes after a Minnesota Department of Education working group recommended increasing state funding for mentoring efforts and early childhood programs in districts that serve the state's 20,000 American Indian students.
The report recommended boosting funding to supplement federal funds that go to Minnesota's four tribally operated schools: Circle of Life School in White Earth, Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School in Bena, Fond du Lac Ojibwe School in Cloquet and Nay-Ah-Shing School in Onamia.
Per pupil funding from the federal government for the schools amounts to $5,000 a year, half what other Minnesota districts receive from the state.
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Rocky Papasodora, the chairperson for the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig school on the Leech Lake Reservation, said funding equalization would be a first step in improving American Indian student achievement.
"If these dollars are secured through legislation it will lead the way for a just and equitable education for all Minnesota school students," Papsadora said.
The graduation rate for Minnesota's American Indian students is 51 percent, according to new data from state education officials released on Tuesday.
Minnesota's on-time graduation rate for Native American students is one of the lowest in the nation.
"This is not acceptable," Joan LaVoy, director of education for the White Earth reservation. "The state of Minnesota must support our schools, teachers, students and families to increase the achievement rate and outcomes of our Indian students."
She urged lawmakers to find more money to fund early childhood programs for the state's 11 tribes.
The state Department of Education estimates that would cost $1.6 million a year.
LaVoy said that would provide much needed support on the White Earth Reservation.
"Schools, programs and agencies on the White Earth Reservation provide services to approximately 500 children ages 0 to 5," she said. "We have at least another 250, I'm thinking it's closer to 300, not receiving any type of early childhood programming."