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Education

Hochul's state budget proposal includes $35M for Native American schools

The Tuscarora School in Lewiston
HHL Architects
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The Tuscarora School in Lewiston is among three state-owned Native schools to benefit from Gov. Kathy Hochul's budget proposal.

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s budget plan includes a huge funding increase for the three state-owned schools on native territory. The schools are the Tuscarora School in Lewiston, Onondaga Nation School near Syracuse and the Saint Regis Mohawk School near Massena.

Schools on native territory are not owned by the local community, like other public schools. Because of that, funding for maintenance or improvements comes from New York's annual state budget.

Late last year, after Hochul became governor, the school superintendents held a press conference and talked about the state’s failure to maintain their school buildings. They said it created an unequal learning environment for Native American children.

Stanley Harper spoke at that event. He’s the superintendent of the Salmon River school district which includes the Saint Regis Mohawk Elementary School.

"By God, it's wrong. That we were never provided with the same resources to level the playing field for the students and to maintain these buildings," Harper said.

Hochul’s budget plan includes $17.8 million for the Saint Regis school, more than double what it received in the last budget. On Tuesday, in response to the news, Harper said it's enough to make significant repairs and improvements.

"We want to do the capital improvements to improve the buildings to modernize them, to get them up to date, compared to all the other school buildings across the state," Harper said.

Harper, who is the only Native American school superintendent in the state, said the budget line is about more than just repairing buildings.

"This is a game-changer for our children, our staff, and our community. This means so much," he said. "You know what? We're valued as Native people the same as any other type of people in New York state. That's what that tells our community and our staff and our children."

Harper said he’s optimistic that the legislature will approve the funding. He said it’s not the solution to all the funding problems for Native schools but this is a good start.

"I think the state is correcting a societal ill now, so I'm happy," he said.

Harper said he won’t stop advocating for the school. Next, he’d like the governor to make a policy change so the state-owned native schools will have more control over their own budgets and not have to lobby every year.