Citing constitutional concerns now that the school is under federal control, Wyoming lawmakers are on track to pull about $3 million in state funding from St. Stephen’s Indian School on the Wind River Indian Reservation.
That money, however, will likely be sent to tribal Department of Family Services programs that serve kids on the Wind River Indian Reservation.
The federal government took over control of the St. Stephen’s Indian School in spring 2022, after the federal Bureau of Indian Education launched an investigation into some top school personnel and made subsequent allegations of sexual and other misconduct.
It is unconstitutional for Wyoming to give school money directly to schools that aren’t under its control, according to Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, who cited earlier Wyoming attorney general opinions Tuesday in the state House of Representatives.
School Board Ousted
Before the Bureau of Indian Education took it over, St. Stephens was run by an elected school board on the reservation and was not under state control.
However, Wyoming lawmakers in the past delivered money to the school anyway, by giving school funding to the tribal governments on the Wind River Indian Reservation, the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone.
The tribes then funneled that money to the school based on a contract requiring the school to advance Wyoming educational standards.
Now the federal Bureau of Indian Education runs the school, and isn’t answering Wyoming’s phone calls.
“We’ve made numerous attempts to reach out to them, to have this conversation,” said Larsen. “Without any response from the (bureau) those funds remained unused. So we moved them from there over to providing child protective services with (tribal) departments of family services.”
Larsen said the Northern Arapaho Tribe expressed approval of the plan; the Eastern Shoshone tribal government never responded to the proposition.
Like Wyoming, each tribe has its own Department of Family Services to oversee child custody cases.
The state gives each tribe’s DFS millions of dollars per budget cycle: $1.5 million per biennium to the Eastern Shoshone Tribal DFS and about $4.4 million to the Northern Arapaho Tribal DFS.
With St. Stephen’s not receiving its typical $3 million in state money per budget cycle now that it’s part of the federal government, the state’s plan so far is to send that money to the tribal family services departments.
The majority chunk, $2 million, is going to tribal DFS.
The remaining $1.05 million is to be marked for placing tribal foster kids who have high behavioral needs, Larsen told Cowboy State Daily in a text message. A $500,000 portion of that amount will only be made available if the tribes can match the amount with non-state money.
The Wyoming Legislature’s proposed supplemental budget has not yet been finalized.