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FARMINGTON — Two bills in the New Mexico Legislature seek to provide funding to Diné College to start a college and career readiness program in Shiprock and provide high-speed internet services at its John Pinto Library.

Senate Bill 214 requests $500,000 from the general fund for fiscal year 2021 to start the college and career readiness program and cover expenses such as equipment, personnel and workshops.

The program would focus on high school students from area school districts and provide them skills, knowledge and behavior for entering college or seeking employment after graduation, supporters of the bill told members of the Senate Indian and Cultural Affairs Committee on Feb. 4 in Santa Fe.

"One of the goals of Diné College is greater accessibility to higher education. We are committed to seeing students achieve success in college," college President Charles "Monty" Roessel wrote in a Feb. 6 email to The Daily Times.

Chris Balzano, a lobbyist for the college, explained to the committee that college has a program at its main campus in Tsaile, Arizona and wants to bring a similar program to New Mexico, especially when considering the Yazzie/Martinez education lawsuit and the number of students graduating from the Central Consolidated, Farmington, Aztec and Bloomfield school districts.

Sen. Shannon Pinto, D-Tohatchi, is sponsoring Senate Bill 214 as well as Senate Bill 215, which seeks $494,000 to bring broadband connection to the library at the college's south campus in Shiprock.

Pinto called the library, which is named after her late grandfather, "one of the best centers" in Shiprock. It provides space for residents to conduct business online and needs upgrading due to changes in technology, she said.

"You go in there, it is a different world and I think it changes your mindset of where you are and the things that you can do and the knowledge that's contained in there is limitless," Pinto said.

Balzano explained that the amount would cover costs such as cables, installation and consultation, including replacing 45 computers and network access for the lecture hall and for the public.

Roessel wrote in his email that the need for greater broadband is a "necessity" today.

"Whether for research, economic development or increased educational opportunities, Sen. Pinto's bills will help our students and Shiprock and the surrounding communities," Roessel wrote.

Both bills were passed by the committee and referred to the Finance Committee. The legislative session ends on Feb. 20.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email nsmith@daily-times.com.

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