First completed, first served: Reduced budget caused program modifications in the Ho-Chunk Nation Education Department

By Ardith Van Riper

     Attention Ho-Chunk Nation families utilizing the Higher Education Division’s financial programs and the School Community Relation’s Pre K – 12 Educational Grant Program.  You will need to promptly complete your files with these programs to increase your chance of receiving benefits this upcoming year.

     Last year, the Executive Branch was given a budget and the Department of Education needed to make some cuts.  Two of the most extensive programs were impacted.

     Higher Education Division Manager Dr. Marcus F. Lewis said, “The scholarship line item for this year is 61% of what it was last year.”

     “We had a 25% cut,” stated School Community Relations (SCR) Director Bethany Redbird.
These reductions bring about program modifications for families and students relying on the two programs.

     “Typically in years past, we have awarded students by fall and spring, the entire academic year.  We are not doing that right now.  We are awarding them for one term at a time,” announced Dr. Lewis.

     “We decided to go with the standard $2,500 per student.  However, that is first complete, first serve now,” said Redbird.  “I was going to break it down and give less to every family, but I’m going to just keep it with the standard $2,500 because it’s always been first come, first serve.”

     The Higher Education Division’s financial programs include the Scholarship Program, the Summer Scholarship, the College Access Program (where they assist with payment of fees necessary to gain acceptance into a Title IV regionally accredited institution), the Special Request Program (where they help with study abroad programs, professional development opportunities, and graduation achievement awards), and the Postsecondary Student Loan.

     “We have put a moratorium on the Postsecondary Student Loan until we can get our financial ship corrected,” stated Dr. Lewis.

     If needed, the Higher Education Division Manager said they are looking into extending the one-year deadline for graduation achievement awards.  There could be a possible pause on these awards this upcoming year.

     If application patterns follow previous years, Dr. Lewis forecasted, “We may not be able to do Summer (Scholarship) next year.”
     “For students taking summer classes that goes over into the next fiscal year, we could perhaps award them after July 1,” revealed Dr. Marcus Lewis.

     The Summer Scholarship initially titled the Summer Tuition Assistance program, is funded from leftover monies from the regular academic year.  Applicants may have to plan as if this scholarship isn’t an option for summer 2020.

     The Pre K – 12 Educational Grant Program provides grants for the parents/guardians of Ho-Chunk Nation enrolled children to help meet the basic educational needs and ensuring children have the opportunity to fully participate in educationally related experiences and unique educational opportunities.  

     Examples of these grants include but are not limited to camp fees, driver’s education fees, educational computer software, extra-curricular activity equipment purchases and participation fees, public school fees, school lunch fees, internet access support for students, tuition fees, and tutorial assistance fees for private/parochial school.

     Parents/guardians and students are encouraged to apply early and submit all required materials as soon as they possibly can.  Awards are prioritized on complete files rather than when an application was received.

     “It’s going to be incumbent upon students to get their materials in early.  We are going to go with the first completed, will be the first to get their scholarships awarded,” explained Dr. Lewis.  “I don’t want to panic anyone.  We aren’t reducing the amounts or anything like that.”

     Both the Higher Education Division’s financial programs and Pre K - 12 Educational Grant Program are not reducing the amounts a student is eligible to receive.  However, there is an above average chance that late applicants or those completing their files late may not receive the benefits these programs offer.

     Bethany Redbird spoke about the Pre K – 12 Educational Grant Program and declared, “We may be out of money by March.”

     For parents/guardians who utilizes the popular Internet Access Support for Students grant at the end of the school year, this could mean they are reimbursed less than previous years if they apply earlier, and not at all if they apply at the end of the school year.  For parents/guardians who utilizes the Summer Camp Fees grant, this could mean that there will be no funds available.

     “This isn’t the time for an intermediary.  If your money is on the line, I recommend that (higher education) students take it upon themselves to reach out and get in contact with their advisor/case manager.  Make sure you got everything in and we got it,” suggested Dr. Lewis.

     In years past, incomplete files caused delays for both programs and delays this year could mean reduced or no benefits.
     The Pre K – 12 Educational Grant Program has specific lists of what documents are required to complete a file and is outlined in their Current Grant Guidelines. 

     A significant hang-up that families encounter when using the grant program is that they must go through their local Johnson - O’Malley (JOM) Program first.  This requirement is three years old and SCR still has to remind parents.  The reason families need to go through JOM first is because JOM is Federal grant funding and not NPD.

     JOM is currently available in Black River Falls, La Crosse, Nekoosa, Wisconsin Rapids, Baraboo, Stevens Point, Wittenberg, Eau Claire, Osseo, Tomah, and Dane County and the JOM requirement doesn’t apply to those living outside these areas.  Every JOM has a different expenditure list.  Families can email with JOM questions.  

     Families are encouraged to attend Back to School Bash activities in their area because most Back to School Bash events distribute school supplies.  Attending will save families money and save money available through their student’s grant account with SCR. 
     The biggest hang-up higher education students typically encounter is the FASFA filing process.  FASFA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid and is used to apply for financial aid for college or grad school.  When in doubt, reach out to the Higher Education Division for assistance.  Their email address is

     “Last year we saved the Nation about a million dollars through the FAFSA, through Federal aid, State aid, and institutional aid,” disclosed Dr. Lewis.

     Families and students can research and learn additional details about the two programs by visiting or
     Visit the Higher Education Division’s Current Funding Policy under Policies and Documents to learn what additional documents are required to complete a file or email an advisor at

     Visit the SCR Division’s Current Grant Guidelines under Policies and Documents to learn about what documents are required to complete a file or email

     The Ho-Chunk Nation Education Department’s phone number is (715) 284-4915 or (800) 362-4476.