Federal Report Shows Poor Tribal Road Conditions Contribute to Student Absenteeism

May 23, 2017

A new federal report says poor road conditions on tribal nations contribute to higher rates of school absences for students. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports. 

A school bus stuck in mud on the Navajo Nation
Credit Jeff Tomhave/Tomhave Group

The Government Accountability Office inspected school districts on three reservations, including the Navajo Nation, the largest tribe in the U.S. The report concludes poor road conditions contribute to a nearly 10 percent higher rate of students being chronically absent from school.

There are more than 4,000 miles of dirt bus routes on the reservation, which often become impassable with heavy rain and snowfall.

Rebecca Shea led the study, which was the first time the agency had examined tribal road conditions’ effect on student absenteeism.

"One of the things that we heard from all of the stakeholders is that constrained funding has limited their ability to improve and maintain roads, and this has contributed to their deterioration," she says. "Our report noting this as a challenge brings some high-level attention to the issue."

Shea says the number of tribal roads has grown nationally in recent years, but federal maintenance funding has remained flat. In addition, overlapping jurisdictions between tribes, and federal and state governments create funding shortages.