Noem hears problems with funding cuts
South Dakota’s representative to the House Kristi Noem, Saturday, March 31, heard staff of the Mobridge-Pollock School District discuss the importance of federal aid to their classrooms and students.
Noem spoke to about 15 staff and board members of the district about her legislation to save Impact Aid funding and what is currently happening in Congress that will affect the staff and students of the district.
She told the group she sponsored legislation that would fund Impact Aid after President Obama’s budget did not included the federal program.
Impact Aid is appropriated to school districts that include within their boundaries parcels of land that are owned by the federal government or that have been removed from the local tax rolls by the federal government. This includes Native American reservation land, armed service bases and land that was acquired by the government for projects. In the Mobridge-Pollock District this includes land that is now part of Lake Oahe. “The Mobridge-Pollock school district is one of the districts in South Dakota that should be eligible for federal Impact Aid funding due to the amount of federally-owned land in the district along the Missouri River,” she said on Monday. “I’ve introduced bipartisan legislation that will not only reauthorize the Impact Aid program, but also tweak the current law to allow consolidated school districts like Mobridge-Pollock to receive this important funding that is unfortunately being withheld from them. It was very helpful to hear directly from local educators and administrators about this program’s importance to Mobridge-Pollock. It was feedback that I’ll definitely be sharing with my colleagues in Congress as I continue working to pass this legislation.”
Noem told the group the problems in Impact Aid funding from the formula to the disbursement, are situations that have been discussed recently in the committee.
Mobridge-Pollock Finance Officer Christi Schaefbauer told Noem the work she had done with Impact Aid was appreciated because the funding was so important to the district. She explained to the Congresswoman that since Mobridge and Pollock consolidated, the new district was not eligible for the federal funding. The district is considered a new district and therefore not included in the funding.
Noem said there had been an interesting discussion in Congress and felt the bills that were passed out of the Education and Workforce Committee, of which she is a member, are in the best interest of the children of the country.
She told the group she understands their frustration as districts are “dictated to” about how federal funding should be spent and that forces some districts to fund projects that wouldn’t necessarily be funded. High School Principal Chris Bohlander expressed frustration with having to spend funds on professional development under the No Child Left Behind law that could be better utilized in the district.
Noem said the districts should be able to decide what they would do with federal funds.
She listened as other staff spoke of how federal funds are used in the district and the challenges of having a district with a growing poverty level and transient students.
Choral Director Lisa Zahn told Noem about watching students come out of their shell in music and because cuts in federal spending will impact the fine arts, she fears how it will affect the students she has in her classes.
“Cutting funding will make our kids chose between chorus and band,” she said. “I am frustrated that music could be pushed out of schools.”
She said in music, kids learn that they can do anything.
Other teachers explained how class size was impacting the manner in which they teach and how if the funding the district currently receives were cut more, the class sizes would be increased. That would cut back on teacher-to-student time and the manner in which those larger classes are taught.
Bohlander spoke of the new challenges the teachers are facing every day with students from homes below the poverty line. He said the teachers are being asked to do more with less every year.
Kindergarten teacher Pam Rabenberg told Noem she has kids coming to school who have never been read to or have never had a backpack.
“I worry about them not getting a good start in school,” she said. “I worry about all of the kids not getting the attention and caring they need.”
Each staff member voiced their concerns about the students and what cuts in federal aid will do to this district’s children.
School Board members Eric Stroeder and Bingo Kindt expressed frustration of not knowing what to expect in funding from year to year.
“Funding and dealing with the issues of poverty and diversity are our major issues,” said Stroeder. “We have unique situations here. We are expected to bring these kids that have not been in our district for the full time to an expected level and punished when we can’t accomplish that.”
He said teachers are fighting the student’s personal problems every day. The kids do not get the attention they need until they come to school.
Food Service Director Pearl Haux told Noem that some kids don’t have a good meal until they eat at school. She said children get themselves up and to school, sometimes not knowing what time it is and hoping they haven’t missed breakfast. She said more and more it is the middle class that is struggling to put food on the table. In some districts kids are turned away if their meal bills are not paid.
“If a child is hungry, they can not learn. We are not going to turn them away,” she said.
Noem heard that some children come to school never having owned a book or had the opportunity to use the library. The staff took turns telling her what cuts in federal funding would do to their class and to the district as a whole.
“This was a great opportunity for me to listen to Mobridge-Pollock educators and to hear local examples of what is working and not working in terms of federal education policy,” Noem said. “I really appreciated the honest feedback I received and walked away with a great appreciation for how dedicated these folks are to their students. Parents in the Mobridge-Pollock school district should feel very good about their level of professionalism and commitment.”