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Federal Report Shows Poor Tribal Road Conditions Contribute to Student Absenteeism

Jeff Tomhave/Tomhave Group

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. 

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.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom as executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.
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