Budget Cut Threatens Indian Education Center : Cultures: An assemblyman hopes to restore funds for the program, which aims to improve students' basic skills and self-concepts.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A tutoring program aimed at improving educational skills and a sense of heritage among American Indian children may no longer be available to hundreds of Ventura County students.

Among the $59 million in programs that Gov. George Deukmejian cut from the new state budget was $2.4 million to support 22 Indian education centers around the state. One of them was the California Indian Education Center in Ventura, which was counting on renewal of the $86,000 state grant that provides nearly all of its budget.

Indian education "was the only program that was entirely slashed," said Susan Stuart, an aide to Assemblyman Robert J. Campbell (D-Richmond), who is trying to restore funding for the centers. "Even driver's education got $1,000."

The 15-year-old program is run by nonprofit Indian organizations around the state. Its elimination comes at a bad time for 10 of the centers--including the one in Ventura--that started operating only last year and have not had much time to drum up corporate contributions or other grants.

"This wipes out the big-time dollars," said Robert Peterson, past president of the Native American Indian Inter-Tribal Assn., which operates the Ventura center. "From the old treaties to the modern day, Indians keep getting stepped on."

Peterson said the center, housed in an auditorium and a bungalow at the former Washington School on MacMillan Street, provides cultural programs as well as tutoring.

"The prime emphasis is educational--reading and math," Peterson said. "But the idea also is to boost their self-concept as Indians, so they know their heritage, what they can be proud of, why their parents feel certain ways."

In the past year, the center has tutored more than 40 Indian children but expected to expand operations greatly this school year. The center devoted much of its effort in the first year to identifying Indian children in the various school districts, Peterson said.

About 800 Indian students live in the Oxnard Union High School District and in the Ventura, Simi Valley and Fillmore unified districts. They may still get tutoring because their districts have federally funded Indian education programs, Peterson said.

But the Indian students in the county's 16 other school districts are out of luck, Peterson said. He said 500 students have been identified in those districts, and he estimated that there are probably several hundred more.

In the 1980 Census, 4,825 residents of Ventura County identified themselves as American Indian, nearly 1% of the population. Stuart said many Indians need the extra help in school because "historically, our society has not been very kind to Indians over the years. There has been a lot of discrimination.

"These programs are a way of giving some dignity back to these people to run their own programs, educate their youths and acclimate themselves to our public schools," Stuart said.

Peterson said that without the state funds the Ventura center can no longer pay for after-school tutors, but it is hoping to get grants and contributions to continue offering cultural programs. The center's only other major source of revenue is about $7,000 a year from fund-raising events.

Last week, the center started a weekly program on Indian heritage led by Ivan Naranjo, an actor who lives in Simi Valley. Speaking to about 15 children, Naranjo told Indian stories, explained Indian history and showed artifacts.

Naranjo, who comes from a Ute and Blackfoot background, said he was lucky to learn about Indian culture from his family. "Most of the kids here don't get this at home," Naranjo said. "They are separated from the reservation."

Peterson, who grew up in Burbank separated from his Oglala Sioux father, agreed. "There was nothing like this when I was a kid," he said. There is a chance that state money will be restored. The Assembly has unanimously approved a bill by Campbell that would provide $1.9 million for the centers and put them under Proposition 98, the initiative that guarantees that 42% of the state's budget goes for education.

Stuart said there is enough reserve money in the education portion of the state budget to provide the funds. The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved Campbell's bill, and the full Senate is expected to vote on it this week.

However, the governor has not said whether he would sign the bill. The state Department of Finance has taken a "neutral with concerns" position, analyst John Lloyd said.

The problem, Lloyd said, is that the centers are not school districts, county education offices or a state agency--a requirement for receiving Proposition 98 funds. "What the Campbell bill would do is classify these centers as state agencies," Lloyd said. "We don't think they can do that."

He said there may be a way, however, to write legislation that would qualify the center for Proposition 98 money.

Stuart said the centers, especially new programs such as Ventura's, need the money now to prevent losing staff and, in some cases, lease arrangements. She called for passing the appropriation and fixing the legislation later, if necessary.

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