Lawmakers Take on Native Education Funding

House Education Committee approves amendments to the Indian Education Act and tables proposal on Tribal Education Trust Fund

Cover Story Students from the Ohkay Owingeh Community School work on an art project coloring characters in winter clothes at the P’oe Tsawa Community Library.

The House Education Committee voted unanimously to pass amendments to the Indian Education Act that would streamline funding to tribal education departments, but it tabled a bill that would create a Tribal Education Trust Fund.

The Indian Education Fund Distributions Act, House Bill 135, sponsored by Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, requires that IEA distributions shall be made to tribes automatically each month, starting on July 15, 2025.

Lente says this bill would address the difficulty many tribal nations and pueblos have using IEA funds, largely because the Public Education Department distributes funds late.

“PED has not yet been able to address the delays, so in effect, the grant rewards are routinely delayed in many cases about half a year, in some cases a little bit more,” Lente says. “When the award finally comes, recipients must upfront the money in hopes that they get reimbursed eventually. The entire process continues to be a drain on tribal capacity.”

HB 135 would also allow tribal education departments to carry over unspent IEA funds to the next year as long as they are used for IEA purposes, and the funds each tribe receives from PED would be based on a formula that takes both the tribes’ needs and size into account.

“This replaces an inefficient grant process with automatic, upfront distributions,” Lente explained to the committee. “It allows tribes to carry over funds to prevent reversions and to continue projects beyond its grant cycle.”

During public comments, Santa Fe Indian School Vice President Alvin Warren (Santa Clara) spoke in favor of the measures, noting they help comply with a court order to improve outcomes for marginalized students.

“The current way it works in terms of reimbursements has caused delays in reaching tribal communities, which means delays in services to our students,” Warren said. “Both of these bills are consistent with state policy. They move us forward, they help us accomplish the goals set for the state by Yazzie/Martinez.”

The committee voted 10-0 in favor of the bill, with Reps. Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, and Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, absent. HB 135 moves next to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

Lente has tried to establish a version of the trust fund in previous sessions. This year’s House Bill 134 would create a non-reverting trust fund in the state treasury for tribal education departments to use exclusively for the same purposes as the IEA, proposing an appropriation of $100 million.The trust fund could be used to ensure equitable and culturally relevant learning environments, educational opportunities and culturally relevant instructional materials to Indigenous students; ensure maintenance of native languages; encourage parental involvement in tribal education; and provide for the study, development and implementation of educational systems that positively affect the educational success of American Indian students.

“This long-term investment would generate stable and consistent funding for tribal education for many years to come,” Lente said. “With predictable flows of funds, tribal education departments will thereafter be able to hire and retain staff and do long-term planning, in addition to providing educational programs and supporting Native students in a way they never had the capacity to do before.”

Several representatives from tribal governments, tribal education department leaders and Navajo Preparatory School students spoke in support of the bill.

“We want to offer our Pueblo of Acoma students more tutoring, more school programs, more summer school educational activities, more Keres language classes, more advanced learning classes and more wellness counseling,” Acoma Pueblo Lt. Gov.Wendell Chino said, noting “this trust fund can make a difference in the academic lives of our children. Our children deserve better.”

Committee members showed bipartisan support of the bill, with Reps. Brian Baca, R-Los Lunas, and Patricia Roybal-Caballero, D-Albuquerque, both commending students who voiced their support for the trust fund.

“I heard comments about leaders of tomorrow, future leaders,” Baca said when addressing Navajo Prep students. “My comment to you is, you are already leaders. Leaders in your school, leaders in your community and leaders in our state.”

Chairman Rep. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque, tabled a vote on the proposal, however, noting the committee will hear forthcoming amendments at a later hearing, including those regarding the makeup of a tribal-led task force that would develop a formula for equitably disbursing funds.

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