Sequestration Is Devastating Schools On America’s Indian Reservations

The automatic budget cuts that went into effect on March 1 are already having a devastating impact on education and health services on American Indian reservations, where poverty and unemployment rates are already sky-high and high drug addiction and school dropout rates make education an even bigger necessity than it is in other parts of the U.S.

The federal government provides roughly 60 percent of the funding for reservation schools, according to the Washington Post, and on reservations like Montana’s Fort Peck that have already faced budget cuts are now cutting Head Start and summer school, saving money by not filling vacant jobs, and cutting health care services, the Post reports:

The superintendent can’t hire a reading teacher in an elementary school where more than half the students do not read or write at grade level. Summer school, which feeds children and offers them an alternative to hanging around the reservation’s trash-strewn yards, may be trimmed or canceled. […]

The school system — for which federal funding already had been reduced before the sequester — is looking for $1.2 million in additional cuts, partly by not filling jobs that go vacant. The Indian Health Service, the reservation’s main source for health care, will also be cut by 8 percent, and Head Start, which serves 240 toddlers, will be cut by 5 percent, officials said.

“Instead of trying to cut, we should be adding,” said Kent Hoffman, the vice principal at the high school, who is also filling in as athletic director, another job that will not be filled. “To me, this is insane.”

States across America are kicking kids out of preschool programs because of sequestration. Indiana is using a lottery to randomly remove kids from Head Start, Tennessee is ending bus service (which could reduce enrollment), and Washington is ending food programs in an effort to keep from removing kids from the program, though officials say that too is “simply unavoidable.”

But the effects of budget cuts are even bigger for reservations, which do not have private property to tax and thus rely on federal education funds more than typical school districts. So Fort Peck will no longer fund a vocational training program, leaving students on a reservation where the unemployment rate tops 50 percent unable to take advantage of the booming oil and gas industry across the state line in North Dakota. Children won’t get preschool. Teachers will lose jobs. People who need medical assistance won’t get it. All thanks to budget cuts the United States doesn’t need.