JOM an important component of Native Education

FLAGSTAFF-The Navajo Nation Johnson O'Malley (JOM) Program hosted a regional meeting on April 30 in Flagstaff. The executive director of the program, Darrell Watchman, delivered an informational report to subcontractors primarily from the western/southwestern side of the Navajo Reservation.

The JOM Program is a BIA-funded supplemental education program designed to meet the specialized needs of Native American students attending public schools. This includes remedial instruction, Native American culture and history, provision of supplies and eyeglasses and programs designed to encourage children to remain in school.

The JOM program was enacted in 1934, with the idea of providing assistance to Native American students to bring them to a level of academic equality among their peers on a national level while providing a strong cultural foundation. It is unique in that no other federal funds are available to address the specialized needs of Native American students.

The JOM program is at risk, however, since President Bush eliminated funding from the national budget, which is stretched thin by expenditures for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as Hurricane Katrina relief.

"One of the complaints heard about the JOM program is that it duplicates services provided by other programs, specifically, Title VII, Title V and Title I." Watchman said. "JOM is unique. It's a...program with powers and duties, most unique in the parent assessment component, with parents working in conjunction with the Indian Education Committee in each school."

Watchman praised Ed Parisian, a Rocky Boy native and longtime educator appointed director of the Office of Indian Education Programs for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, DC. "Ed Parisian has been honest and consistent," Watchman said.

"Parisian has said that JOM should not be included in the BIE (Bureau of Indian Education) and [should instead be] merged into the Department of Education, perhaps into Title VII, V or I. JOM has been considered the black sheep of the BIE family," Watchman added.

A steady reduction in JOM funding, as well as delays in disbursement, have caused the closure of several schools dependent on the program, Watchman said. A Navajo Nation strategy saved the program for students it serves.

"The Navajo Nation's policy of holding all subcontractors' funding for six months has been a big blessing in disguise," Watchman explained. "Without that, we would have been closed [and] our employment would have ended today."

Subcontractors present expressed their concern not only over delays in fund disbursements, but also about an earlier announcement that they would have a chance to apply for a portion of an announced $5 million excess in funding. Watchman explained that although he had received that report, currently the JOM program is at a zero balance.

"During the week of April 23, the JOM central office staff was informed that the reconciliation of FY 2004-FY 2006 unexpended funds was complete and that the JOM program has a zero balance," Watchman said. "In February the Department of Finance informed us that there was $5 million in unexpended funds. On March 14 the balance went down to $3 million. In the second week of April, the program went down to [a deficit of] $911,000 and we owed this money back to the Navajo Nation. Last week the total was raised to a zero balance. I think it is very convenient to say that we are at a zero balance. I believe that this money may be lost. I am requesting a written report from the Navajo Nation Office of Management and Budget-Contracts and Grants Section."

Watchman acknowledged that JOM is still eliminated under the Bush administration, but that a series of letters indicate that there is a momentum of Congressional support for JOM. He encouraged a letter-writing campaign designed at education, though he warned that under statutory law, JOM subcontractors and staff members are not allowed to lobby for support.

"We can educate-that is not considered lobbying," Watchman said. "There is a fine line there. If we can survive this year even at 50 percent funding, we might survive. We can educate, provide fact sheets and background information to members of Congress. They tend to listen to their constituency first."

Success stories from former students, JOM staff or school staff that have data about results and outcomes, improved grades and the like were offered as good tools for informing Congress about the value of the program. Watchman remains realistic.

"During these insecure times for the JOM program, it's recommended that JOM-funded staff be reduced or transferred out of the JOM program," Watchman said. "We've seen McKinley-Gallup move all personnel out of JOM into Title VII. They only use JOM funding to supply instructional supplies, curriculum, etc., as they see the instability of JOM funding."

Clayton Long and Eleanor Thomas gave an update on the National JOM Association (NJOMA) Conference that will take place Oct. 14 - 16 at the Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel in New York. The pair encouraged subcontractors to raise money to attend the important event that will include legislative updates, a student photo contest, art contest and a silent auction to benefit the NJOMA scholarship.

Watchman unveiled a new strategy to improve the Navajo Nation JOM program.

"It might be time where the Navajo Nation JOM program may have to turn to the Nation's general fund and ask for supplemental funding," Watchman said. "I've attended a lot of the [legislative] sessions, and everyone is asking for funds. Why shouldn't we enter the arena?

Long added, "We could say, 'We'll take care of supplies, just help us with parental involvement training."

Another attendee noted that there is no money for culture and language in most school districts. "School districts need to back up the efforts for Navajo language and culture curriculum. Even the Navajo Nation says that this is our standard, but there is no money for this," he said.

Though many believe that JOM will be coming to an end in SYFY 2008-2009, Watchman is optimistic.

"Congress has the final say," Watchman said.

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