Congressman Joe Baca

BY BEN GOAD
WASHINGTON BUREAU
bgoad@pe.com

Published: 09 December 2011 08:13 PM

WASHINGTON — Seeking to improve an education system he says is failing Indian country, Inland Rep. Joe Baca introduced legislation this week to overhaul the nation’s tribal schools.

The bill would provide increased Indian access to funding for at-risk youths and early childhood education, more adult literacy programs tailored for Native Americans and a scholarship program for tribal members studying to become teachers, among other provisions. The bill is called the Native Culture, Language and Access for Success in Schools — or Native CLASS — Act.

The bill’s centerpiece is language providing tribal schools with greater control of the schools and curriculum, allowing tribal educators to better incorporate their culture into classrooms on reservations around Inland Southern California and across the country.

“It allows our tribal schools — like the Noli school on the Soboba reservation and the San Manuel Learning Resource Center — to use native languages as a primary language of instruction,” said Baca, D-Rialto.

Baca said the current system is broken. The high school dropout rate for Native American students — who number more than 700,000 nationwide — is roughly 50 percent, and their standardized testing scores rank among the lowest in the nation.

James Ramos, chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians who recently became the first American Indian to serve on the California State Board of Education, said the bill would pave the way for different approaches that could lead to measurable improvements to tribal schools.

“In addition to bringing much-needed attention to Indian education, the bill offers an opportunity for discourse between tribes and the Congress to further refine the legislation so it reflects the education goals of Indian Country,” Ramos said.

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