By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Wyoming often accepts federal funds, but now the state is trying to send state funds to the federal government. It’s an effort to continue state funding for students at St. Stephens Indian School on the Wind River Indian Reservation.
Formerly run by an elected school board on the Wind River Indian Reservation, St. Stephen’s Indian School was taken over this summer by the Bureau of Indian Education, following an explosive federal report accusing upper-level staff members of sexual harassment, drug abuse, and other misconduct.
State lawmakers at a Monday meeting of the Wyoming Legislature’s Select Committee on Tribal Relations contemplated whether, and how, the state can keep funding the school now that it is in the hands of the federal government.
A Wyoming Attorney General’s opinion from a decade ago declared it illegal for the state to fund the Bureau of Indian Education directly, according to Chad Auers, deputy superintendent for the Wyoming Department of Education.
Wyoming for several years has given St. Stephen’s Indian School between $1.3 million and $1.5 million annually in operating costs. The state funnels that money through the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribal governments on an alternating annual schedule – after securing contracts guaranteeing that the money will be used to advance Wyoming educational standards.
Although it didn’t control the school until recent weeks, the Bureau of Indian Education also has funded the school historically, and in recent years has given St. Stephen’s about $4 million per year in operating costs.
State Money For The Feds
Rather than channeling its $1.5 million through the tribal governments to benefit the once-privately-owned school, Wyoming now is faced with channeling that money through the tribes to supplement the Bureau of Indian Education – a federal agency.
Wyoming law demands that the state fund St. Stephen’s and other schools on the reservation, to a degree that supplements any shortfalls in their federal funding streams.
“It’s obviously a very unique situation in that St. Stephen’s exists outside the traditional parameters of how the state of Wyoming supports public schools,” said Auers, in a Tuesday phone call with Cowboy State Daily. “But it is also, while it’s unique, it’s also very important.”
Auers told legislators at the meeting Monday that his department has been working with the Bureau of Indian Education in the hopes of securing a promise, that the bureau will use the state’s money to implement state educational standards.
“There are some accountability measures, some deliverables that need to come back to the Wyoming Department of Education,” Auers said in his Cowboy State Daily interview. “Those are around attendance, enrollment, curricular programs; and then a report on how the money is being spent on behalf of educational programming for the students.”
But in the education department’s talks so far with the Bureau of Indian Education, receiving those guarantees appears likely, Auers told the committee on Monday.
The committee did not draft legislation to address the new arrangement, but may take up the topic again at its Oct. 18 meeting in Laramie.
The bureau’s takeover of the school occurred after the two tribal governments operating on the Wind River Indian Reservation, where the school board’s constituents also reside, released a misconduct report in May by the Bureau of Indian Education.
The report detailed sexual and general harassment by upper-level staff members at the school. It also accused the school’s superintendent of nepotism, bullying, alcohol use on campus, and misuse of funds; and accused the school board members of misapplying funds.