The House Appropriations Committee has proposed a $ 65 million budget for the creation of a school for the children of Department of Defense officials stationed at Guantanamo Bay. The school would feature dedicated science labs, health offices, art rooms, and a gymnasium. It would be used by 275 children, which means that each child is worth more than $ 230,000.
Congresswoman Betty McCollum, a member of the House Appropriations Committee and a co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, released a statement condemning the proposal shortly after its introduction. Why? Because Congress appropriated just $ 55 million for the Bureau of Indian Education schools responsible for the education of roughly 48,000 Native Americans — which means that each Native American child is worth just $ 1,145.
“The federal government is operating two separate and unequal K-12 school systems; one K-12 system for the children of Department of Defense service members and employees; and another K-12 system for Native American children,” McCollum says in her statement. “These children are all Americans. They all deserve to have the ability to learn in safe, healthy, and modern facilities that reflect how we as a Congress and a country value our children.”
It’s worth noting that the budget for the school in Guantanamo Bay will be used to build a new school, not keep existing schools running. But the difference in the budgets allocated to the education of the children of government officials and those budgets appropriated for the education of Native American children is still striking.
Then again, perhaps it’s just another example of the government’s willingness to spend much more than it needs while it keeps the Guantanamo Bay prison open. Reuters reported in 2013 that it costs the government $ 2.7 million per year to keep each of the 164 detainees at the prison — it would cost just $ 35,000 per year to detain those prisoners in the United States. The prison isn’t just a host to gross human rights violations, including the force feeding and torture of detainees. It’s also a financial abyss into which the government keeps tossing money.
This school would be the latest example of that financial waste. It also shows how children can receive different qualities of education based on their race and where they happen to live. McCollum concluded her statement today with a line saying that “this situation is inequality.” She couldn’t be more right: everything about Guantanamo Bay, from its prison to its school, is a stunning example of inequality, whether it’s in the budgets allocated to educating children, the cost of keeping men who were never charged with a crime imprisoned, or prisoners’ rights.