Two members of President Obama’s Cabinet will visit a Passamaquoddy tribal school Monday to discuss education reform efforts for schools on tribal lands.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell are scheduled to tour the Beatrice Rafferty School on the Passamaquoddy’s Pleasant Point reservation.
The school, which serves about 130 mostly American Indian students in kindergarten through eighth grade, is partially funded by the federal Bureau of Indian Education and is due to be replaced.
Jewell and Duncan will tour the school to “see first-hand the need for additional funding for replacement school construction and will meet with school officials, teachers and students to better understand the shared challenges in delivering educational services,” according to a media advisory.
Last year, the two secretaries convened a study group to assess issues in Bureau of Indian Education-funded schools, which are among the lowest performing in the country. The study was prompted by a Government Accountability Office investigation that showed that test scores and graduation rates at the schools were well below those at public schools. For instance, the average math performance for eighth-graders in Bureau of Indian Education schools was three grade levels below the national average for all children, the GAO report found.
In June, Interior Secretary Jewell issued an order outlining a plan to restructure and redesign the Bureau of Indian Education over the next two years.
Among those expected to join Jewell and Duncan on Monday are: Monty Roessel, director of the Bureau of Indian Education; Reuben Clayton Cleaves, chief of the Passamaquoddy tribe at Pleasant Point; and Mike Chadwick, principal of the Beatrice Rafferty School.
The Bureau of Indian Education oversees 183 schools on 64 reservations in 23 states. There are three in Maine: the Beatrice Rafferty School, the Indian Township School in Princeton and the Indian Island School in Old Town.
The Pleasant Point school was built in the 1970s and has fallen into disrepair. Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, who serves on the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the Bureau of Indian Education, visited the school in June with a House colleague, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minnesota, to see firsthand the need for improvements.
Earlier this year, Pingree and fellow Maine Democrat U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud announced that an estimated $18.5 million in federal funding would be approved to replace the aging, troubled school building. About $1 million already has been committed to plan the new school, and the remaining funds would be disbursed in future budgets, subject to approval, according to Pingree spokesman Willy Ritch.
The Beatrice Rafferty School was the only Bureau of Indian Education school to receive funding and has long been on a list of schools targeted for replacement.