The Osage Nation Education department could be getting an oversight board soon, something that might relieve some of the problems that have plagued the department. In an Osage congressional education committee meeting Jan. 13 Congresswoman Alice Goodfox said that she will be revising her legislation that establishes the board. The legislation has been tabled since the 2010 Tzi-Zho session.
“I think [an education board] would add some stability to times of instability,” said Congresswoman Shannon Edwards, chairwoman of the congressional education committee. The scholarship coordinator for the education department, Jennifer Holding, was on hand for questions Jan. 13. Acting education department director Deidre Bigheart was away at a conference in Washington, D.C. Bigheart is also the Nation’s Director of Operations. Holding told the committee that the search is on for a new director and advised the committee to speak to the executive branch about when the job closes. Congresswoman Edwards wanted a report on the executive branch’s cancellation of the Chiefs Leadership Award – a $150 scholarship given to students who obtain a 4.0 grade point average.
The education department gives out three awards. It begins with the Osage Higher Education Scholarship which awards students with $3,500 per semester if enrolled full-time (checks were mailed the week of Jan. 10). The second is an add-on incentive of $500 for students making a 3.5 GPA and higher. The third incentive was the Chiefs Leadership Award. Holding told the committee that the leadership award could not be afforded with the funding that was in place because the number of students awarded the higher education scholarship had increased by 179 students for the Spring semester. For the Fall semester the education department awarded 1,061 scholarships. It would take an additional $400,000 to fund the leadership award since there were roughly 200 to 300 Osage students making a GPA of 4.0, Holding said.
“I feel pretty passionate on going to [Congressional Speaker Jerri Jean Branstetter] and asking her for a resolution to put the $400,000 back in for the [chiefs] leadership award,” Edwards said. “But I’m not going to do it without this committee’s approval.” Congressman Archie Mason pointed out that the committee had already approved, and Congress had appropriated, more than $7 million to the education department. He recommended the committee send a letter to Bigheart.
“I would like to know how many people are moving on and graduating,” Edwards said. “I’m thrilled that we have so many students utilizing this money.”
Holding said that students receiving the higher education scholarship have to apply each semester and that applications ask for the students to specify their needs, calming some of the fears from the committee about possible Internal Revenue Service audits. If a student is awarded money without specifying need it could be considered taxable income. The next education committee meeting is Jan. 24 at 5 p.m.