Tribal colleges disappointed by workforce funding cut

2013-04-14T23:00:00Z Tribal colleges disappointed by workforce funding cutBy HANNAH JOHNSON | Bismarck Tribune Bismarck Tribune

Tribal college officials are disappointed by a lower appropriation for a Native workforce training bill before the state House.

However, they still support Senate Bill 2218, saying it creates a plan that will lower unemployment on the reservations.

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee decided to fund the bill at $3 million instead of $5 million.

The bill, which passed the Senate unanimously, provides the funds to the Department of Commerce for grants to the tribal colleges.

The committee also created more restrictions on which facilities could receive the grants. Specifically, colleges on reservations with unemployment lower than 30 percent would be excluded, which applies to Fort Berthold Community College.

United Tribes Technical College President David Gipp said in a statement that he feels the tribal colleges are being punished for receiving federal funding.

North Dakota tribal colleges received about $20 million in federal funds for job training as a one-time grant. United Tribes and Cankdeska Cikana Community College received their money in September of 2011, while the others, along with Bismarck State College, were given the grant in October of last year.

Gipp said the tribal colleges do not have the “safety net” of regular state funding and questioned why the same standard was not being applied to other state institutions that receive federal funding.

Laurel Vermillion, the president of Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates, said the programs her school wanted to implement were based around the $5 million funding, which would have provided $1 million for each of the tribal colleges.

Now, she said, the college will have to reassess and it’s likely it won’t be able to do all the projects it wanted to implement.

In particular, Vermillion said Sitting Bull wants to concentrate on increasing student support through more available counseling, advisers, and a job placement office.

North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission Executive Director Scott Davis said that even though he hopes the appropriation will go back up to $5 million, he supports the mission of the bill.

“Here’s a plan for unemployment and getting people to work and seeing some of those on welfare go down,” he said.

Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga, is a member of the House Appropriations Committee and said he didn’t think it was necessary for each college to receive $1 million in state funds.

Skarphol said Fort Berthold especially, with its oil money, had the “financial wherewithal” to work on some of these issues.

Skarphol also said he believes the bill will help address the lack of trust and confidence of many Native people in the non-Native workforce and enable them to work off the reservation if they choose.

“We have to trust Mr. Davis on what he can accomplish,” Skarphol said.

The full House will likely take up the bill this week.

Reach Hannah Johnson at 701-250-8251 or hannah.johnson@bismarcktribune.com.

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