Skip to main content

Every Child Left Behind: Sequester Guts Indian Education, Part 2

The cuts to K-12 education funding because of the federal sequester will hurt American Indian elementary and secondary school students the most.
  • Author:
  • Updated:

The cuts to K-12 education funding because of the federal sequester will impact students and teachers across the country, but many say they will hurt American Indian elementary and secondary school students the most.

Tribal schools are funded through a number of mechanisms, among them the federal government (through per-student payments, grants and Title I, II and VII programs), tribes and sometimes states. A major source of funding comes from the Bureau of Indian Affair’s Bureau of Indian Education, which allocates ISEP (Indian School Equalization Program) funds on a per-capita basis.

Courtesy of Jason Abram, Chief Leschi Schools

Puyallup Tribal School System Lushootseed Language Teacher Cheryl Wapes’a-Mayes instructs student Stephanie Jackson-Buena.

Ray Lorton is superintendent of the K-12 Puyallup Tribal School System. The tribe’s Chief Leschi Schools serve 900 students, from pre-kindergarten through grade 12, approximately 95 percent of them American Indian from 60 tribes. He is expecting a cut of $400,000, or 5.9 percent, in school funding this year as a result of the sequester. “We’re looking at faculty and staff attrition first, and also taking a look at increasing enrollment and applying for more federal grants. We have grants in place that will sunset, and we want to maintain the personnel, such as instructional coaches, funded by those grants.”

Coeur d’Alene Tribal School Superintendent Eric Kendra says the tribally controlled land grant school has about 100 students in grades K-8. He is eager to retain supplementary instructional personnel, despite the sequester. “We’re applying for federal grants in reading and math in an effort to keep our math coach, reading coach and intervention person hired with No Child Left Behind funding. Now we’re making [adequate yearly progress] and losing the funds.” Those hires, he says, provided “crucial” help in making those gains.

Debbie L. Simpson, superintendent of the Colville Confederated Tribes’ K-9 Paschal Sherman Indian School, says the school will weather this year’s $250,000 cut in federal funding. The BIE just told schools to expect a 6-percent cut, but she says she anticipated this and has been working closely with her accountants. “It’s not going to affect us. I’m a stickler with the budget. We follow the guidelines and watch our spending. The most important thing is to meet the needs of the students; students come first.”

The situation is significantly different at the Quileute Tribal School, where Superintendent Jon Claymore anticipates tough times. “For a small tribal school already scrambling financially, we will be hit very hard by any additional decrease in funding,” he says. “All our programs and facilities will be compromised. We keep getting asked to do more with less.”

Public Schools Serving Mostly American Indian Students

The U.S. government has a special responsibility for American Indian kids, as well as those of families living on military bases and in some low-income housing facilities. One way the government meets that obligation is by providing Impact Aid for the education of children attending public schools in districts where the tax-base has been reduced because of the presence of Indian reservations, military installations or other federal activities. The program, authorized by Title VIII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, is administered by the U.S. Department of Education.

Courtesy Mahnomen Elementary Principal Jacob Melby

A third-grader in the Mahnomen Public School District shows dad her reading program.

Unlike other federal education programs affecting American Indian children, such as Title I, Title II and Title VII, Impact Aid is distributed during the school year in which it is to be used, not the year before. Schools that receive it are usually heavily dependent on that funding, since they do not have access to funds generated by local property taxes. Those schools started feeling the cuts as soon as federal sequestration went into effect on March 1, cutting roughly 5 percent to 6 percent from the program.

“We’ve already felt the effects and are making adjustments. We’re looking first at supplies and equipment, not cutting academic programs,” Dwight Pickering, director of American Indian Education at the Oklahoma State Department of Education, says.

The effect of the cuts, for most schools, are expected to be profound and they are expected to do the most damage to schools that educate large numbers of American Indian children. “American Indian kids are the ones who will be hurt the most by cuts to Impact Aid because they are in schools where the highest percentage of dollars come from Impact Aid,” says John Forkenbrock, executive director of the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools.

The 2012-2013 cuts are expected to total $60 million, about 65 percent of which will be taken from schools with American Indian kids. According to the National Indian Education Association, the cuts to Impact Aid will hit 115,000 Native students. NIEA President Heather Shotton explains that, “for our Native students in federally impacted schools, the effects of sequestration are devastating because these are real dollar cuts in real time from district and school budgets.”

Courtesy Secondary Principal Ramona Miller

Scroll to Continue

Read More

Students at Mahnomen Public School District are making a high mileage car that competes against other schools. This student is buffing the hood of one of the cars.

Dennis Olson, director of the Office of Indian Education in the Minnesota Department of Education, says the cuts “will be at least 15 percent of the total budget for some schools,” when reductions to the other Title programs are figured in. He believes the cuts will have a “significant, significant impact.” Schools, he says, are looking at retirements, attrition, and cutting positions such as guidance counselors in an all-out effort to avoid having to cut teachers, but that too will be on the table if the sequester continues into next year. Building closures are also a possibility.

In Minnesota, Jeff Bisek, superintendent of the Mahnomen Public School District on the White Earth Reservation, which serves 612 students in grades K-12 of whom about 70 percent are American Indian, says the district “anticipated this cut last year and have been preparing for it. We’ve been downsizing as people retire and expect to lose one full-time teacher this year. We’re also looking at reducing one bus route, which will mean longer ride times, and cutting our afterschool homework club program” from four days a week to two.

Next year, he says, they may have to cut extracurricular activities. “Kids need things to do outside of school and extracurricular activities help to meet that need. We provide transportation at 5:30, using Impact Aid funds to provide a bus for transportation as far as 25 miles away. Transportation is a huge issue; if that is cut, there will be less participation in extracurricular activities.” Other components that could fall victim to federal cuts include mental health services and the presence of a resource officer at the school. “We’re done trimming the excess; we’ll be trimming meat and potatoes pretty quickly,” says Bisek.

Courtesy Secondary Principal Ramona Miller

The Mahnomen Public School District has an elective quilting course as part of the high school Family & Consumer Science curriculum.

Pickering agrees: “This first year is going to be okay. Next year’s sequestration will be devastating.”

Arizona receives more Impact Aid than any other state. Debora Norris, deputy associate superintendent of Native American Education and Outreach for the Arizona Department of Education, points out an irony inherent in cuts to Impact Aid. “Native American students are experiencing a large achievement gap at the same time that [state] standards are being raised. As Common Core is put into effect, there will be more math and science requirements for graduation. All of these things mean increased needs for Native American students.”

In a letter to members of the Arizona Congressional delegation, John Huppenthal, Superintendent of Public Instruction for the Arizona Department of Education, wrote: “Districts and charters in Arizona receive nearly $151 million in federal impact aid, with the vast majority going to schools serving Native students…. The schools on our reservations in particular have worked to improve educational outcomes for their students, and a long?term disruption in this stream of funding will be detrimental to the students who need it most.”

Courtesy Secondary Principal Ramona Miller

The Mahnomen Public School District high school cheer team performs at a football game.

Edward Slocum, superintendent of the public component of the K-12 Cheyenne-Eagle Butte School on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota, says many of his students are eligible for Impact Aid, which accounts for about 40 percent of the annual budget and pays for about half the teaching staff and paraprofessionals for around 1,100 students. “It looks like an 8 percent cut for us. We don’t want to increase class size further, which would have a serious impact on students, so we’re being extra careful with materials and supplies.”

These funding cuts come after a deep cut in state funding two years ago that forced the school to reduce classroom teachers from six to five for each grade, increasing class size. “When they cut too deep, all we can do is lay off personnel,” he says. Like Norris, he is concerned about the timing. “These funding cuts come at the same time as test score requirements are increasing. Our kids are at a disadvantage. Our schools are expected to do more with less.

“The federal government turning its back is like a deadbeat father who doesn’t pay child support. He has an obligation. So does the federal government.”

RELATED: Every Child Left Behind: Sequester Guts Indian Education, Part 1

RELATED: Every Child Left Behind: Sequester Guts Indian Education, Part 3

Courtesy Secondary Principal Ramona Miller

The Mahnomen Public School District high school football team won the State Class A Football Championship in 2012.