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'Sequester' Hurts Rural Schools on Tribal Lands

Rural schools receiving federal Impact Aid, especially those on tribal lands, are facing difficult budget decisions because of across-the-board federal cuts known as sequestration.

The roughly 5 percent cut in federal money went into effect March 1, and it immediately affected Impact Aid, which is federal money that goes to districts to replace property tax revenue lost to federal land.

The bulk of the top 25 districts nationally that rely most on this money are on or near American Indian reservations, and many of those areas are rural. Some Bureau of Indian Education Schools could be shuttered while others might not be able to pay teachers, according to the National Indian Education Association.

The cuts will directly affect 710 schools and the services provided to about 115,000 Native students. One of those school districts is Window Rock Unified in Arizona, and it will lose about $1 million. Window Rock is the capital of the Navajo Nation, and the district serves 2,600 students. More than 60 percent of its budget comes from Impact Aid, and it's dealing with sequestration this year through the attrition of staff members who were not replaced.

Going forward, the Window Rock district plans to cut 35 teachers, 25 support staff members, and five administrators, and plans to close three schools, according to its Superintendent Deborah Jackson-Dennison.

"I just don't understand how this is happening. It's beyond serious," said Jackson-Dennison in a statement.

The NIEA has a new policy brief further explaining the ramifications of sequestration for Native students, and Education Week has a good story on how these cuts are going to affect districts nationwide. The Rural School and Community Trust also offers a good basic explanation on the sequester.

The WyoFile, an independent, nonprofit news service, also has a story on how it's affecting reservation schools in Wyoming.

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