It is not surprising that the educational impact of the federal budget cuts known as “sequestration” should most seriously affect American Indian children on the reservations. After all, my dictionary defines sequestration as “seclusion, separation, setting apart, removal.”
Indian reservations are places where, over the past two centuries, our society has set apart and made invisible the indigenous people we defeated. If you have visited northern Montana, where I grew up, you may have noticed the flag of the Blackfeet Nation flying next to the U.S. flag at the St. Mary’s visitor center at the east entrance to Glacier Park, but you have probably never heard of Rocky Boy, Fort Belknap, or Fort Peck.
It is therefore entirely predictable that in 2011, when Congress passed a budget-reduction plan that carved 5 percent of funding from all the federal departments, the cuts to education would most seriously hurt the schools serving already sequestered American Indian children, schools which, according to a recent article in Education Week, are likely to depend on Congress for as much as 80 percent of their funding. Federal Impact Aid is a program that supports schools in places where there is little private property to tax locally—the reservations and schools on military bases.
According to Education Week, “Perhaps no other single group of students has been as walloped by sequestration—the biggest cuts to federal education spending in history—as Native American children… Seventy-six of the top 100 districts that rely most heavily on federal funding are districts that receive Impact Aid to help make up for tax revenue lost because of a nearby Indian reservation… In addition, 90 percent of Native American students go to schools that get federal Title I funds…. The Title I program—a roughly $14.5 billion pot of money designed to help educate the nation’s poorest children—lost $727 million this school year because of sequestration.” Also reduced have been the Title VII dollars that support programs in American Indian languages and cultures.
Because cuts to these programs are affecting some of America’s neediest children, there was a sense of relief last week among Washington, D.C. education advocates when Senator Patty Murray and Representative Paul Ryan finally agreed on a proposal for a budget compromise. Joel Packer, the executive director of the Committee on Education Funding declared, “Obviously, this isn’t the ideal situation we’d hoped for, but to be honest, it’s better than we could have expected.”
According to Alyson Klein of Education Week, “The plan doesn’t completely get rid of sequestration, which is slated to be in place for a decade. The deal would just roll back most of the cuts for two years, giving lawmakers space to come up with a broader agreement down the road.” The House has passed the Murray-Ryan plan, which sets aside $62 million for sequester relief—87 percent of the cuts to non-defense discretionary spending for 2014. The Senate still must vote on the plan.