Leaders fight Navajo Tech funding cut

By Carolyn Calvin
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, March 10, 2011

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The U.S. House of Representatives has approved drastic cuts to the chief funding source for two tribal colleges, including Navajo Technical College.

The House last week passed a bill to fund the remainder of fiscal 2011 - the current budget year - but would cut $4 billion from 2010 spending levels. The cuts included money for the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which funds Navajo Tech and United Tribes Technical College in North Dakota.

The measure now goes to the Senate. Navajo leaders were quick to condemn the cut.

"Losing Carl Perkins funding would threaten the continued existence of Navajo Technical College," said NTC President Elmer Guy. "We would have to downsize and reorganize the college."

Grants made under Perkins pay the salaries of 37 faculty members at Navajo Tech and 14 support staff, Guy said. Perkins grants fund about 50 percent of the college's operating expenses.

The Republican majority in the House put it on the chopping block because they view it as pork barrel spending. The act is named for a longtime congressman from Eastern Kentucky who championed the rights of disadvantaged citizens, including vocational education opportunities in rural areas where most people cannot afford college.

If Navajo Tech lost all the Perkins-funded staff, it would reduce or eliminate over a dozen programs, Guy said, adding that 15 vocational/technical certificates and 14 associate of applied sciences degrees would be impacted.

Congress has been unable to agree on a budget for the current fiscal year, 2011, which started Oct. 1. It has funded government operations through a continuation of the 2010 budget, but the House inserted $4 billion in spending cuts in its latest continuation resolution.

Last Friday President Ben Shelly urged the Senate to remove the Perkins cuts before approving another continuing budget resolution.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Shelly said, "Eliminating these funds would threaten our tribal college and force drastic cuts which may ultimately lead to closing our doors. It is imperative that our Navajo students continue their technical training and education to compete for good jobs on and off Navajoland.

"The Section 117 Perkins program has been authorized (20 U.S.C. 2327) since 1990, and has received the support of both Democratic and Republican administrations in budget requests," Shelly wrote. Section 117 of the Perkins act covers tribally owned colleges.

In addition, U.S. senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall, both Democrats, asked Senate leaders to continue financial support for NTC and UTC.

In a letter to Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the New Mexico senators pointed out that Navajo Tech and UTTC do not receive assistance under the Tribally Controlled College and University Assistance Act like other tribal colleges, and thus rely heavily on the Perkins program grant.

"Eliminating these funds would cause the colleges to dramatically scale back or even close their doors," Bingaman and Udall wrote. "In fact, 50 percent of NTC's funding and 46 percent of UTTC's funding comes from this source. These institutions are not part of state higher education systems and do not benefit from state-appropriated college funds."

Without predictable funding, the colleges could lose their accreditation, hindering their ability to obtain other federal funds (including Pell Grants) and jeopardizing a stable learning environment for faculty and students, they stated.

"UTTC and NTC may seem small, but their mission - to train a workforce for Indian communities that have faced devastating poverty for decades - is extremely important to our states and all of Indian Country," they wrote. "Defunding the Section 117 Perkins program dims the hope in tribal communities that education is a pathway out of poverty and hardship."

Bingaman and Udall urged Congress to continue funding Perkins at the current level of $8.162 million a year. On Friday Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee - which writes spending bills - unveiled a measure that would do so.

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