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Bureau of Indian Education: Information on Efforts to Count Students for an Educational Services Program

GAO-24-106844 Published: Dec 07, 2023. Publicly Released: Dec 07, 2023.
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Fast Facts

The Bureau of Indian Education oversees the Johnson O'Malley Program, which provides educational services for American Indian and Alaska Native students—such as language enrichment and buying school supplies. This Q&A report looks at the steps the Bureau took, or plans to take, to update its count of students and allocate funding for the program.

In 2018, Congress required the Bureau to estimate the number of students potentially eligible for the program and conduct an annual count of participants. But the Bureau published the estimate 3 years after the deadline and won't complete its first annual count until the end of FY 2024.

School Supplies Funded by the Johnson-O'Malley Program

Two side by side images, one showing boxes labeled school supplies, the other showing assorted school supplies such as glue sticks and crayons.

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What GAO Found

The Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) has estimated that 578,070 students are potentially eligible for the Johnson O'Malley (JOM) Program. The program provides supplemental education services to meet the specialized and unique needs of American Indian and Alaska Native students. BIE published this estimate, as required by the Johnson-O'Malley Supplemental Indian Education Program Modernization Act (JOM Modernization Act or the act), in July 2023, more than 3 years after the deadline required by the act. BIE officials told GAO that disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic and changes in the agency's understanding of requirements in the act contributed to delays in its publication.

According to BIE officials, the purpose of this estimate about potential student demand for the JOM program is to assist Congress in determining future appropriations. BIE reviewed several data sources and ultimately decided to use data from Census's American Community Survey for its estimate of potentially eligible students. While evaluating data sources and determining the estimate, BIE consulted with and obtained feedback from a variety of tribal and other JOM program stakeholders, including existing contractors who provide educational services (e.g., tribal organizations or public school districts). BIE has delayed plans to determine the total number of students currently served by the JOM program until the end of fiscal year 2024. Contractors are required to count the students they serve in school year 2023–24 and submit their annual reports by September 2024.

BIE plans to distribute funding to all contractors based on updated student counts starting in fiscal year 2025. For fiscal year 2024, BIE will continue to use the 1995 base student counts for determining funding allocations, except contractors that reported higher updated counts in fiscal year 2023 will receive a corresponding funding increase. BIE officials told GAO they will implement the act's requirement to withhold funds from any contractors for failure to report student counts starting in fiscal year 2025.

Why GAO Did This Study

The JOM program provides academic and cultural supports to meet the unique and specialized educational needs of eligible American Indian and Alaska Native students in public schools and select tribal schools. BIE contracts with Tribes, tribal organizations, states, public school districts and others who provide JOM services to eligible students. These services can include Native cultural and language enrichment, academic support, dropout prevention, and the purchase of school supplies. Since 1995, BIE has relied on the same count of eligible students to determine its budget allocation for the program. Congress passed the JOM Modernization Act in 2018 to update and modernize the program, including provisions for BIE to estimate the number of students potentially eligible for JOM services and annually count the number of students receiving services. In addition, the act includes a provision for GAO to conduct a review of BIE's process for updating the student count.

This report includes information on the steps BIE took, or plans to take, to estimate the number of students potentially eligible for JOM services, count students currently receiving services, and distribute JOM funds to contractors based on the number of students they serve. GAO reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, and BIE documents on the JOM program. GAO also examined prior public comments submitted by Tribes and interviewed agency officials and members of the National Johnson O'Malley Association. GAO also conferred with the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, who provided comments on the data sources BIE considered for its estimate of potentially eligible students.

For more information, contact Melissa Emrey-Arras at (617) 788-0534 or

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