Federal budget cuts are causing schools on the Wind River Indian Reservation to tighten their belts.
Wyoming provides funding to all public schools in the state, but 10 districts – including several on the reservation – also receive money from the federal Impact Aid program. That supplements funding to school districts that include federal land that is not subject to property taxes.
Michelle Hoffman is the superintendent of Fremont County School District 14 in Ethete. She says federal funding makes up about one-third of her district’s $15 million annual budget. In the last year, Impact Aid funds decreased by about $1.7 million. And the federal sequester threatens to cut up to $276,000 more this year.
Hoffman says federal money is vital to funding student services, including the successful public preschool there.
“We know that our students come to school, because of poverty issues, two to three years behind, academically, because they don’t have the access to reading materials… There’s all sorts of different reasons why. But we need to catch up before the kids ever get started. And so that preschool program has helped 30 of our students be prepared for kindergarten.”
Hoffman says federal also provides teaching assistants at the elementary, middle and high schools, five school counselors, and free breakfast and lunch for qualifying students, which is 73-percent of them.
She says these services are just as important to a student’s success as classroom materials.
“But if those basic needs are not be taken care of here at school, it’s gonna be really hard to get the math, reading, writing down pat. You have to feel secure, you have to have food, medical issues, taken care of, before school can even work.”
Hoffman says the district has worked to adjust staff benefits and leave open empty positions to save money, but she worries that further cuts will be necessary. She says she’s waiting to see what the final numbers are before making further cuts.