Indian accounting for all

| August 24, 2006

Following criticism that Missoula’s public schools are misspending money appropriated by the state Legislature for Indian Education for All (IEA) programs as mandated by Montana’s constitution, a group of 10 current, former and prospective legislative reps from Missoula met with district Superintendent Jim Clark and Assistant Superintendent Gail Becker on Friday, Aug. 18.

Carol Juneau, Democratic legislator from Browning and chairwoman of the Montana Indian Education Association, recently singled out Missoula and Billings schools, saying they are violating the spirit in which the IEA money was granted by spending it on existing salaries rather than expanding curriculum and staff dedicated to educating students about American Indians.

“We worked really hard to make sure this money was earmarked for Indian education and we want to make sure it’s used right,” Democratic Rep. Holly Raser said at the meeting’s outset.

In response, Clark and Becker detailed Missoula’s efforts toward Indian education, which began in 1994, long before the state began contributing money to the cause, and include curriculum development and employee education. More than $580,000 in new IEA money has been folded into the general fund, where it’s being used to bolster existing efforts, said Clark, and nearly $425,000 in one-time IEA money has yet to be allocated but will go toward implementing recommendations from an IEA committee, Clark said.

“We’re committed to improving our program, but I can’t show you we’ve dedicated that money to expanding it,” Clark said.

He also said that while the Legislature didn’t require districts to segregate or prove IEA expenditures, he will nonetheless work to better delineate for legislators how IEA money is contributing to IEA efforts.

Besides addressing recent district decisions, legislators’ concerns also anticipated the upcoming 2007 legislative session, when school funding will likely again become a divisive issue. Representatives voiced worries that some legislators may be uninspired to continue or increase support for schools, given concerns about how new funds were spent this year.

“This is the first time we’ve had any money for [Indian education], and if we’re unable to show we’ve used it for that, there’s not going to be more money,” former legislator Diane Sands said.

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