Federal and state proposed budget decreases cut through more than just education
By Kim Swaney
PABLO — If President Obama’s administration and
Congress are serious about improving the economy by retraining
dislocated workers, and increasing the number of persons with degrees
and certificates, then they need to authorize funding for education and
training available at tribal colleges and higher education
institutions, say Salish Kootenai College staffs and students.
Eliminating or drastically reducing some of the
funding could mean risking more than providing an educational
opportunity - communities risk public safety due to the high
correlation between the lack of education and incarcerated individuals.
According to Reach Higher America, the lack of
funding could also mean directly and indirectly impacting children.
Children whose parents have dropped out of high school are more likely
to live in poverty than children with mothers who have higher education
levels. RHA also says that there’s also a risk to our future because of
the higher rates of unemployment and the continuance of an uneducated
“We know that the way out of poverty is through
education,” says Dr. Luana Ross, SKC President. “It’s almost a
There’s been much talk about how proposed cuts at
the federal and state levels will affect Montana’s university system
but there’s been little discussion about the potential effects on
tribal colleges, Dr. Ross says. Recently Dr. Ross along with several
key staffs and students sat down with The Missoulian and Char-Koosta
News to discuss those potential effects.
Salish Kootenai College’s current annual operating
budget is $9 million.
Salish Kootenai College sponsors both a federally-
and state-funded Perkins program, which supports students in eight
educational and career training programs from dental assisting
technology to highway construction. The Perkins programs serve
approximately 175 students and a dozen-or-so staff at SKC. The programs
also provide career counseling, tutoring, and job placement services to
help SKC’s Native American students attain self-sufficiency - which is
one of SKC’s vision and mission statements.
“Without those training programs, they [students]
are going to have to rely on public assistance,” says Dr. Robert
Peregoy, SKC’s director of the Native American Career and Technical
And to add more insults to injuries, SKC receives
both state and federal funds for Native and Non-native student
enrollments. Fewer students mean less revenue generated from the
student enrollment numbers.
SKC currently receives $5,400 in federal Tribal
College Act funds for each Native American student enrolled fulltime
for basic institutional support. If proposed cuts - as much as 22
percent of SKC’s current budget, it would equate to approximately 40
less native students.
Forty less native students, means an additional
$216,000 SKC could potentially lose.
The real losers too, are the communities and
students who look to SKC as a way to make their lives better and a way
to fulfill dreams.
Angelita Reino Ramon, a 48 year-old Tohono O’odham
tribal member from Arizona came to SKC to heal from a horrific and
traumatic past. Ramon says her sons are all dead.
“I lost my three sons - the first one in 1997 and
then I almost lost one of my daughters in 2000,” Ramon relates. “My
last son was killed by gang members and one of the another ones was
killed by the border patrol.” Tohono O’odham members have frequented
Mexican borders to their aboriginal lands just as much as northern
tribes do who travel in and out of Canada to their ancestral grounds.
“I used to have a dream about buffalo - but
there’s no buffalo there (Arizona), then I came here and I saw the
buffalo,” exclaimed Ramon. The buffalo she saw in reality is the spirit
of SKC - the Bison, their team mascot.
When Ramon came to Montana, she had not thought
about getting her GED. Ramon’s thoughts were how she needed time to
heal from the loss of her children. Ramon says she’s proud of the GED
program at SKC even though she admits she’s “feared education.”
Ramon mirrors many of those students’ goals in the
Adult Basic and Literacy Education program by wanting more than her
GED. She now wants to obtain her degree at SKC and counsel others. In
2009, 30 percent of the graduating class were former SKC ABE students
More than 77 thousand adults in Montana (38%) do
not have a high school diploma and more than half of Montana’s inmate
population in prisons and correctional facilities, lack a high school
diploma or GED.
Statewide, 5773 students were served through the
20 ABLE programs at $91 per student per year. On the contrary, the
Department of Corrections spends $94 per inmate each day.
Studies have shown that salaries rise from $2,400
to $10,700 more each year depending on the level of education they
pursue. Not to mention, the return on investment is greater when
investing in students than in inmates. Students have the potential of
earning a decent wage, which contributes more than a million per year
to Montana’s economy.
“If the President and Congress are emphasizing
education and training with a goal of increasing 5 million more
Americans with certificates and degrees, then they should be
increasing, not decreasing Perkins funding by $264 million,” says Dr.
Lon Whitaker, SKC’s Vice President of Business and
Related Affairs, says the cumulative losses facing SKC total
approximately $500,000 and that exponentially it could mean $1 million
by the time it’s said and done.
According to Whitaker, that’s more than 11 percent
of SKC’s total operating budget.
Whitaker says that the college is taking planning
steps to cover all possible fiscal scenarios and will move forward with
the proper plan when necessary.
“We will do everything we can to maintain the
programs in whole or in part, but inevitably the budget will have to be
balanced,” stated Whitaker.
Salish Kootenai College is an affordable choice
for people who want to further their education but proposed cuts could
ultimately raise tuition for its students or force SKC to reduce
programs they offer.
Currently the Montana Legislature and House
Appropriations Committee are positioned to reduce non-beneficiary
funding by 53 percent for the next two years. Right now SKC receives
$3024 per non-beneficiary student and if the Montana Legislature
succeeds with their proposed cuts, non-beneficiary student funding
could be reduced to $1425 per student. Last year SKC received more than
$475 thousand in non-beneficiary funds.
Non-beneficiary students are identified as
in-state residents and non-Indian.
Steve McCoy, SKC ABLE Director, is a former
non-beneficiary student and also a graduate of SKC. McCoy said he
actually wanted to go out-of-state for college, but it was more cost
effective for him to remain here.
“Most of our students want to stay close to home
and they want to work in the communities,” says McCoy.
Andrew Zimmerer is a non-beneficiary student and a
SKC graduate who says he wanted a degree in business management and
needed to stay with the family business in Pablo, “Zimmerer’s Tackle,”
which is what attracted him to SKC.
Karol Bird and DeeDra Reum are both
non-beneficiary students who both dropped out of high school years ago
to begin raising their families.
Karol Bird had been married for 36 years and never
gave a thought about earning a GED. She had worked and kept busy
throughout the years, but life-changing circumstances forced Bird in a
new direction. She hasn’t looked back since.
“I was a single-mother who comes from a family of
a bunch of minimum-wage cashier clerks,” quips Reum, and she knows she
is better off now and has the confidence to obtain her bachelor’s
“It’s about decimals, fractions and punctuation -
yes,” says Reum. “It’s also about confidence - it’s about walking into
a room and not thinking you’re less than anyone else because you didn’t
graduate,” concluded Reum about SKC’s GED program.
Dr. Ross says she has created a seven-member
Budget Committee composed of faculty, staff, and administration.
“We are assessing and evaluating every department,
program, and unit on campus in an effort to cut waste and “trim the
fat.” If the Adult Basic Education funding remains at zero, SKC must
find the money for this crucial program. Finding the money may mean
looking at other programs to financially trim Dr. Ross says.
Several weeks ago Dr. Ross implemented a hiring
freeze and communicated with her staff of the political climate and
budget difficulties facing all higher education institutions through
“Our primary goals are to protect SKC’s
educational mission and to protect jobs,” insists Dr. Ross.
Last Thursday, March 17 White House Press
Secretary Jay Carney issued a statement on the authorization of the
three-week continuing budget resolution, “We will continue to oppose
harmful cuts to critical investments in education, innovation, and
research and development that we need to grow our economy and create
jobs - as well as oppose additions to the bill that have nothing to do
with fiscal policy.”
How well SKC and higher educational institutions
prevail when democrats and the GOP come to a consensus on the budget,
will be anyone’s guess.
“SKC has always had the philosophy of looking
ahead seven generations. We are going to be here for seven generations,
and the next seven and the seven after that,” says Roger McClure, SKC
Career Services Director.