Lawmaker wants to increase state funding for tribal colleges

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HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Montana lawmaker proposed Monday that tribal colleges receive the same per-student funding that community colleges receive.

Rep. Susan Webber of Browning introduced House Bill 196 in the House Education Committee.

The Democrat's measure builds on a 2013 law that temporarily raised the amount of state funding provided to tribal colleges to educate non-Indian students. That aid totals $3,000 per student annually and is half the amount that Montana's community colleges receive per student.

Webber's proposal would match funding for students at tribal colleges to the average aid provided to community colleges.

James Ives, a non-Indian student at Salish Kootenai College, said his education has been enhanced by studying on the Flathead Indian Reservation. "We're on the same path together, and I think tribal colleges offer a very unique and very important perspective for non-tribal members to enroll there," Ives said in support of HB 196.

No opponents spoke against the bill on Monday, but Webber said she expects adversaries exist.

"Any Indian bill is always contentious," Webber said. "There are still the old Indian fighters around here."

Enrollment in Montana's tribal colleges increased by 20 percent from 2001 to 2012, according to a report by the Montana Budget and Policy Center. Seven of the nation's 32 tribal colleges are located in Montana — the most of any state.

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