Last week, Congress approved an amendment to the House Interior Appropriations bill (H.R. 5538) that provides funding to improve school bus routes on tribal trust lands within the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The amendment provides $1.5 million to upgrade dirt roads on school bus routes on tribal trust lands. The funding would be available to repair flood-prone roads in the Navajo Nation portion of Utah’s San Juan County, which STN previously reported on.
“The condition of critical bus routes within the Navajo Nation is unacceptable,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who introduced the amendment and represents Utah’s third district, where San Juan County is located.
Last winter, the San Juan County Commission described these roads as “neglected dirt roads” and “inadequate.”
School bus routes take up a total of 258 miles of road in the Navajo Nation communities of Utah. Of these, 87 miles are made up of dirt roads, which can make getting to school a long ordeal, with bus rides lasting up to two hours. On days when weather conditions are harsh, the trek to school is close to impossible. On average, the area’s students miss 10 days of school per year due to the poor road conditions, a number that meets the federal criteria for chronic absenteeism.
“There is no excuse for kids to qualify as chronically absent simply because bad weather made their road to school impassable,” Chaffetz said. “These students already face enough barriers to success without having to worry about whether they can even get to school. They deserve better.”
Although the federal government already pays for road maintenance, the funding has not changed in nearly three decades. The Navajo Regional Office receives an annual appropriation of $85,000, which covers less than 20 percent of the costs to maintain roads within the Navajo Nation. This means that on average, the federal government covers $87 per mile, while San Juan County taxpayers contribute $219 per mile.
“That’s an enormous burden for a county nearly the size of New Jersey with a population under 15,000 people. When the county can’t make up the difference, Navajo school kids pay the price,” said Chaffetz’s office in a statement.