The amendment provides dedicated funding for dirt school bus routes on American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) trust lands within the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
This funding would be available to repair dangerously rutted and flood-prone roads in the San Juan County portion of the Navajo Nation.
“The condition of critical bus routes within the Navajo Nation is unacceptable,” Chaffetz said. “There is no excuse for kids to qualify as chronically absent simply because bad weather made their road to school impassable. These students already face enough barriers to success without having to worry about whether they can even get to school. They deserve better.”
When a student misses ten days of school in a year – the average number missed due to impassable roads in these areas – they meet the federal criteria for chronic absenteeism. This may be a factor in the 47 percent dropout rate at AI/AN schools – a rate that is double the national average.
Although the federal government is already contractually obligated to pay for road maintenance, the funding has not changed since 1988. The $85,000 annual appropriation from the Navajo Regional Office (NRO) covers less than 20 percent of the maintenance cost of roads within the Navajo Nation, leaving county taxpayers to make up the difference.
For every mile of road through the Utah section of the Navajo Nation, the federal government funds $87, while San Juan County taxpayers contribute $219 per mile. That’s an enormous burden for a county nearly the size of New Jersey with a population under 15,000 people.
When the county can’t make up the difference, Navajo school kids pay the price.
The amendment provides $1.5 million to fund dirt school bus routes on American Indian/Alaska Native trust lands. The funding is offset by a cut to the Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Programs and Management Fund.