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N.D. HIGHER EDUCATION: Committee OKs funding for tribal colleges

BISMARCK - A bill granting funding to tribal colleges to help cover the cost of educating non-Indian students could be on its way to the House floor soon.

BISMARCK - A bill granting funding to tribal colleges to help cover the cost of educating non-Indian students could be on its way to the House floor soon.

But it's a step behind an identical bill in the Senate.

Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, introduced a bill in the House last month, which provides $700,000 to the state's five tribal colleges to cover the cost of educating students who are not enrolled tribe members.

Hoping to increase the chance of a strong showing, Sen. Richard Marcellais, D-Belcourt, introduced identical legislation Jan. 22, the deadline to introduce bills in the Senate.

Kasper's bill passed the House Education Committee nearly unanimously Friday and is on its way to the House Appropriations Committee.

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Marcellais' bill is already in the Senate Appropriations Committee after a unanimous recommendation from the Senate Education Committee.

The two legislative chambers have until Feb. 17 "Cross-over Day" to pass bills and send them the other chamber.

If the legislation passes, it would be the first time North Dakota has taken a significant part in funding the tribal colleges.

"This would be historic," Kasper said. "It would mean the North Dakota legislature realized it's time to move forward with the tribes. They're North Dakota citizens too and as citizens, they need our support."

The federal government funds about $4,500 per enrolled American Indian student through the 1978 Tribally Controlled Community College Assistance Act, but provides no funding for non-enrolled students, said Cynthia Lindquist Mala, president of Cankdeska Cikana Community College on the Spirit Lake Sioux Reservation.

About 140 non-Indian students attend North Dakota's tribal colleges, according to the university system's enrollment reports. Mala said that number rises to about 175 when non-enrolled American Indians are included.

The bill's detractors argue it would place additional burdens on a state that is already providing funding for 11 public colleges. Funding tribal colleges, they said, would put a total of 16 colleges on the payroll in a sparsely populated state.

Kasper said the benefits outweigh the cost, arguing that tribal college graduates are statistically more likely to stay in North Dakota and use their improved skills in the state.

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