The supplemental budget that the Wyoming Legislature approved this year did not include any funding for St. Stephens Indian School.
“We’re no longer funding St. Stephens,” Wyoming Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, said during a Tribal Relations committee meeting last month.
Instead, he said, the state allocated “the equivalent amount of money” to support child protective services on the Wind River Reservation.
“That’s a change I really support, actually, based on things that have happened,” Case said.
Wyoming Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, explained that, after the administrative upheaval at St. Stephens last year, the Wind River Intertribal Council transferred oversight of the school to the Bureau of Indian Education.
The federal agency has not requested any state money, he said, and it has not responded to state officials who have reached out to discuss the funding situation at the school.
“We’ve made numerous attempts to reach out to them and have this conversation,” Larsen said during the recent legislative session. “(But) without any response from the BIE, those funds remained unused – so we moved them.”
Another issue, Larsen said, is that the state may not be allowed to fund a BIE school, because the federal agency doesn’t have to meet Wyoming standards for graduation and teacher certifications, for example.
Northern Arapaho Business Council representative Travis McNiven said the Northern Arapaho Tribe is “looking at how (St. Stephens) may come back under some sort of alternative management structure with more … Tribal control,” and Larsen said some Tribal officials have asked him if the state would restore funding for St. Stephens in the future if the Wind River Intertribal Council assumes oversight again.
Larsen said the Intertribal Council would have to “demonstrate (that) reasonable oversight – expected oversight – for the safety and wellbeing of our children is in place before we commit to any general funds to supplement their needs.”
“Through this whole process, we concluded that some of the expectations between the Tribes and the Department of Education would probably need to be carefully thought through,” he said.
Larsen proposed the amendment that removed $3.2 million in funding for St. Stephens from the state’s budget this year.
He said $2 million of that total would “automatically funnel” to the Department of Family Services for the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho DFS programs “to help with the cost of foster care and guardianships.”
“It just seemed logical to me that, if we’re not going to use that money for education, we’ve committed that money for the benefit of children on the reservation,” he said.
Another $500,000 was “set aside” as matching money that Tribal DFS agencies can use to support children who need to be placed in psychiatric residential treatment facilities in Wyoming or elsewhere, he said.
“Those are expensive and are difficult and are not always in the budget,” he said. “We want to help with that.”
The final $550,000 went to Wyoming DFS for high-needs children, Larsen said.
Tribal officials and St. Stephens school administrators did not respond to requests for comment before this story was published or said they had no comment on the issue.