Navajo Acting Superintendent testifies on Education Shortfalls before Senate

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Contact: Jared King
Communications Director
Navajo Nation Washington Office
202-200-0625
jking@nnwo.org

For Immediate Release

Navajo Acting Superintendent testifies on Education Shortfalls before Senate

WASHINGTON— Navajo Nation Department of Diné Education Acting Superintendent Timothy Benally testified this afternoon at a U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs oversight hearing on “Ensuring the Bureau of Indian Education has the Tools Necessary to Improve.” Tim Benally testifying at the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs

In his testimony, Benally addressed the steady decline in student achievement at the 31 Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) funded schools in the Navajo Nation.

“For over 140 years, BIE and state public schools have dominated education on the Navajo Nation. Today, Navajo students at BIE schools are the lowest performing in the country,” said Benally.

Benally cited a severe shortage of highly qualified teachers, lack of professional development opportunities and high teacher turnover for adding to low performance. He also said the education accountability systems in place on Navajo do not allow for a full picture of how Navajo children are performing in school. The different systems do not record comparable information to analyze performance.

Benally urged Congress to support granting State Education Agency Status for the Department of Diné Education. He quoted Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim: “The Navajo Nation must have first access to the minds of its children.” State Education Agency Status will provide uniformity in the currently fragmented education system at tribally controlled schools on Navajo and will align accountability systems with three states affecting Navajo education.

The Navajo Nation submitted an Alternative Accountability Workbook to the BIE in accordance with the No Child Left Behind Act that includes Diné content standards.

Benally said the workbook will enable the Navajo Nation to exercise a greater degree of authority over education at its tribally controlled schools.

Benally also urged Congress to amend the Family Educational Right and Privacy Act so tribes can access their student’s data and called for Congress to provide greater support for language and culture programs, which are “critical for the success of Navajo students.”

In closing, Benally also advocated for higher education funding for scholarships.

The Navajo Nation provides scholarships to students, but less than 50 percent of students actually receive an award. “Tribal scholarship opportunities should be forward funded,” added Benally. Forward funding allows college students to receive funding prior to the start of the academic year. Generally, the academic year begins in the first week of September while the funding from the annual appropriations bill does not reach students until sixty-days after October 1. Without forward funding from Congress, Navajo college students now receive funds for tuition and books after the school year begins, resulting in many financially strapped students to withdraw from college.

In his concluding comments, Benally said with these changes in place, the Navajo Nation could take charge of its educational commitments in a more streamlined and efficient manner to benefit its citizens and its capacity to build a robust and vibrant Nation.

[Photo captionNavajo Nation Department of Diné Education Acting Superintendent Timothy Benally testified at a U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs oversight hearing on “Ensuring the Bureau of Indian Education has the Tools Necessary to Improve.”Senate Committee on Indian Affairs oversight hearing on education. Washington, DC. May 21, 2014. Photo by Jared King / Navajo Nation Washington Office.]

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