Director – Bureau of Indian Education
Department of the Interior
United States Senate
Committee on Indian Affairs
May 13, 2015
Good afternoon Chairman Barrasso, Vice Chairman Tester, and Members of the Committee. Thank you for the invitation to appear today. My name is Charles "Monty" Roessel, and I am the Director of the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) at the Department of the Interior (Department). I appreciate the opportunity to testify on behalf of the Department before this Committee on the topic of the "Bureau of Indian Education: "Examining Organizational Challenges in Transforming Educational Opportunities for Indian Children."
I am here to provide the BIE's vision for American Indian education in BIE-funded schools. The BIE has recently initiated several actions to improve student outcomes, including building the capacity of tribal nations to operate their own schools, improving the quality of instruction in BIE-funded schools and restructuring Indian Affairs in the Department to streamline the BIE bureaucracy and improve day-to-day operations.
The Bureau of Indian Education
The BIE supports education programs and residential facilities for Indian students from federally recognized tribes at 183 elementary and secondary schools and dormitories. The BIE serves approximately eight percent of Native youth, with the majority of Native youth attending public schools. Currently, the BIE directly operates 57 schools and dormitories and 64 tribes operate the remaining 126 schools and dormitories through grants or contracts with BIE. During the 2013-2014 school year, BIE-funded schools served approximately 48,000 individual K-12 American Indian students and residential boarders. Approximately 3,800 teachers, professional staff, principals, and school administrators work within the 57 BIE-operated schools. In addition, approximately twice that number work within the 126 tribally-operated schools.
The BIE has the responsibilities of a state educational agency for purposes of administering Federal grant programs for education. BIE responsibilities include providing instruction that is aligned to the academic standards set forth in regulations; working with the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to administer the formula grant funds ED provides to BIE under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) and under Title VII, subtitle B, of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act for the schools operated and funded by BIE; and providing oversight and accountability for school and student success. BIE is also responsible for ensuring compliance with ESEA, currently referred to as the No Child Left Behind Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and other Federal civil rights laws for the schools operated and funded by BIE.
The BIE faces unique and urgent challenges in providing a high-quality education to Indian students attending the schools it funds. These challenges include difficulty in attracting effective teachers to BIE schools (which are most often in areas of concentrated poverty and located in remote locations where there is often insufficient housing and services); difficulty in adopting research-based reforms at all BIE schools; lack of access for BIE and BIE schools to certain programs that are designed to build SEA and LEA capacity;; the need for organizational and budgetary restructuring to meet the needs of the current school system; and a lack of consistent leadership – having had 33 directors since 1979.
A New Vision for the BIE
The Administration is fully committed to providing a high-quality education to Indian students attending the schools BIE operates and funds The Blueprint focuses on the following five pillars of reform:
The Blueprint sets out a vision for a 21st century education system for BIE operated and funded schools, grounded in both high academic standards and tribal values and traditions.
Implementation of BIE Blueprint for Reform Recommendations
The Department, BIE, and Congress have taken action on several of the Blueprint's key recommendations, including:
Proposed BIE Reorganization
To implement meaningful reform in the BIE that will lead to improved student outcomes, the bureau is proposing to restructure its organization and expand direct line responsibilities. The proposed restructuring is in line with recommendations of the Blueprint and addresses concerns raised by recent Government Accountability Office reports. The proposed changes have two primary objectives: (1) strengthened BIE capability to address school operating needs; and (2) improved oversight of BIE-operated and tribally-controlled schools.
An example of how the restructuring responds to Blueprint recommendations is the proposal to re-designate Education Line Offices as Education Resources Centers (ERC) and relocate several to more effectively serve schools in its jurisdiction. The ERCs will be staffed with mobile School Solutions Teams to provide customized technical assistance to meet the unique needs of each school.
An example of how the restructuring responds to GAO recommendations is the proposal to stand up the School Operations Division (SOD) within the BIE with additional administrative services functions with line authority through the Deputy Director - Operations. This action will strengthen financial stewardship of BIE schools and provide direct line expertise in teacher and principal recruitment, acquisition and grants for schools, school facilities management, educational technology, and communications.
This forward looking vision for BIE – a vision rooted in the belief that all children can learn and that all tribes can operate high-achieving schools – allows the BIE to achieve improved results in the form of higher student scores, improved school operations, and increased tribal control over schools.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I'm happy to answer any questions the Committee may have.