Delegates on the Navajo Nation Council the tribe's legislative body, were equally pleased. They said HHS has failed to take into account the unique and often difficult circumstances on the 27,000-square-mile reservation, which spans three states and is about the size of West Virginia. “Federal officials are fully aware that that we lack the facilities to house Head Start school programs, which has resulted in under-enrollment," said Delegate Jonathan Hale, who chairs the council committee that deals with education issues. "Where are we going to put the students?" “Many of our young children depend on head start education and to take funding away from them without providing an appeal right to the tribe is very disappointing," added Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty, who also serves on the committee. The tribe's top legal official also hailed the speedy turnaround in the case. The injunction had been denied on February 28 and officials were worried about the fate of not only the students, but the staff members who provide language, transportation, food and other crucial services to Navajo children. “The court’s quick action to reverse this reduction will require the HHS Secretary to take stock of the challenges we face in operating this program,” said Attorney General Ethel Branch of the Navajo Nation Department of Justice.
The Navajo Nation's share of Head Start funding represents just a small portion of the overall program. The $1.3 trillion #Omnibus spending bill that was just signed into law provides nearly $9.9 billion for the program in the current fiscal year, an increase of $610 million from prior levels, according to the House Committee on Appropriations But attorneys for the Trump administration said the Navajo Head Start has experienced "underenrollment for years" and even "decades," according to court filings. By their count, the tribe is serving about 1,400 students, not the 2,000-plus the tribe has claimed in applications for funding. As a result, the government believes other tribes with "critical needs and waiting lists of eligible Indian children" are being denied money, though specific examples weren't provided in a recent filing. At the same time, the Trump team sought to reduce funds for Head Start in fiscal year 2018, a request that was rejected with the new spending bill. A cut is also being sought for fiscal year 2019, which begins on October 1. "Funding has not kept pace with inflation," the Metlakatla Indian Community, a federally-recognized tribe, told HHS during a recent consultation in Alaska. According to HHS, Head Start programs are operating in more than 155 tribal communities. Grantees must contribute at least 20 percent to their budgets, with 80 percent coming from the federal government. The Navajo Nation's 90 centers are spread across Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. Most are located at the local chapter house, or nearby, in order to provide services close to the community. According to tribal officials, the loss of $7.3 million would have required Head Start to lay off 147 employees and reduce hours for 40 additional employees. The tribe was considering shutting down nearly three dozen centers amid the funding fight. “The people who make the nation’s Head Start program work so well for Navajo children across our reservation – the teachers, and bus drivers, and aides, and cooks – they are the ones who won this case,” said President Begaye.