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South Dakota schools lose due to cuts in Impact Aid

WASHINGTON - President Bush's fiscal year 2004 budget has drastically cut Impact Aid that many schools in the state require.

Schools in South Dakota will lose $5.9 million in Impact Aid and it will drastically change the way some schools provide services to students.

The Wagner School District where the Yankton Sioux Reservation is located will lose $2.3 million.

Vernal Anderson, superintendent said if the aid is not restored the district will have to cut programs and it will especially hurt supplemental services added to bring some students up to government standards.

"These are the students that have fallen behind on the test scores," Anderson said.

"The state gives a little help, but we've already spent that."

He mentioned that some new software to help students with math and language will have to be turned back.

Anderson said the full Impact Aid was in a preliminary budget the president issued, but when the actual budget reached Congress the Impact Aid was cut.

Wagner had also managed to implement a 15 or 16 student to teacher ratio, but that will also have to change.

"We will fight it. We will see if we can keep it from being changed. We have a good coalition in Congress, it's strong," Anderson said.

The National Impact Aid Conference will be held in Washington on March 23. Anderson said all school administrators will be meeting with congressional delegations to turn the cuts around.

The Bennett County School District, between the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations would suffer a $1.2 million cut. Bennett County's estimated 2003 aid package was $1.9 million, for 2004 it would be $700,000.

"Although we must do better, we have made progress improving the quality of education Native American students receive throughout South Dakota," said Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

"Unfortunately, the cuts in Impact Aid funding are a very big step in the wrong direction. Instead of building on the progress we have made, President Bush seems to be setting up additional barriers that will make it harder for Native Americans to receive a high quality education they deserve.

"Impact Aid is a critical source of funding for school districts across South Dakota that are at a disadvantage because of their proximity to federal lands. I will fight to restore this funding and ensure that every child in South Dakota has the opportunity to receive a quality education," Daschle said.

Impact Aid is designed to assist local school districts that have lost property tax revenue because of tax-exempt federal property in the school district. Some may have had increased expenditures because of enrollment of children whose parents work for the federal government, but live or work on Indian lands or military reservations.

Of the school districts that will lose, Wagner on the Yankton Sioux Reservation is the worst off. The 2003 budget includes $3.4 million and for 2004 the estimate is $1.1 million for a loss of $2.3 million.

Hot Springs School District, which is near the Pine Ridge Reservation and home to a federal VA hospital will be zeroed out. In 2003 Hot Springs received $36,000, for 2004 it will receive nothing.

Timber lake near the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux reservations will see a drop of $676,000, more than half of its 2003 allocation of $1.2 million.

Flandreau on the Flandreau Santee Sioux Reservation will lose $117,000; Isabel on the edge of the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation will lose $273,000, more than half its 2003 allocation.

As a comparison, the Douglas School District that is home to the Ellsworth Air Force Base will only drop by $500,000 to a $5.8 million Impact Aid allocation.

The cuts are nationwide, but the data show that schools on or near American Indian reservations suffered the biggest cuts.