Osage students across the country are getting a shock as their Osage Nation Higher Education Scholarships are not being paid in full, leaving some with no money left for room and board.
“If I don’t have that money I don’t have enough money to live anywhere and I’ll have to drop out,” said Mary Wildcat, a junior at Rogers State University in Bartlesville, and the mother of two young children. “I need that money now.”
Wildcat, along with hundreds of other Osage students who attend lower-cost institutions, aren’t receiving the promised amount of $3,500 because, according to a prepared release from the Executive Branch issued this morning, the Executive Branch and education department is doing exactly what the congressional education committee told them to do, which was to restructure the department and address “how funds are distributed, and what systems are in place to promote accountability in the expenditure of those funds.” In short, to make sure students are spending the excess money for room and board and not spending it irresponsibly.
Letters of intent were sent to all the student’s schools that were awarded the scholarship promising those institutions that the student would be getting $3,500. Wildcat was informed by RSU staff that her letter of intent expires next week.
A letter is being sent out Today to all parents and students receiving financial aid from the Nation, explaining how to access the additional funds that will be available under the full array of scholarship programs, said Hepsi Barnett, Osage Nation Chief of Staff. The application to receive the full amount of the scholarship to those students with remaining money is being mailed out next week.
Congress calls emergency meeting
At an emergency congressional education committee meeting Wednesday in front of angry students and parents, Tosha Ballard, staff attorney for the Executive Branch, said that it was a matter of protecting students and the tribe from possible tax implications that they discovered while restructuring the department.
Ballard said the Executive Branch was waiting for a call back from the Internal Revenue Service and would have an update at the next education committee meeting Sept. 9.
The possible tax liability came from an IRS publication from the 1990’s that said money given to students that was used for college room and board was subject to tax. Congress members William “Kugee” Supernaw and Doug Revard disagreed saying that the law wasn’t new, that students don’t make enough money to be taxed and that even if the students were taxed it would be the responsibility of the individual to pay that tax, not the Nation. Supernaw said that he was sure that the students would rather have the money and worry about the tax later than not have the money at all.
“Last year I received $2,500 in scholarship money to attend RSU,” Wildcat said. “That money paid for my tuition, books, rent and with the remainder I bought food, and paid for daycare so I could attend classes . . . I didn’t have any taxes to pay.” Hyatt said the money will eventually be paid in full but they just don’t know when.
Hyatt said he is waiting for approval from the Executive Branch before sending the rest of the money. But according to a source in the Chief’s office, that asked not to be named, the Executive Branch never told the education department that they couldn’t send the remainder of the money.
As to helping students pay any late fees or other additional fees acquired in relation to housing costs to their universities, Hyatt said that he couldn’t answer that Wednesday. Hyatt did not return calls from the Osage News by press time.
Supernaw asked Hyatt, “Are you confident that no one is going to get hurt between now and next week?” Hyatt replied, “I would hate to say yes to that.” He also said that the department was trying to get the money out as fast as possible.
“We have 717 applications for scholarships and out of that 717 we have 407 applications that are completed,” Hyatt said. The 310 that are not completed are either missing a CDIB, verification of enrollment, or something else making the application incomplete, he said.
Out of the 407 completed about 200 have received the full amount of $3,500 because those students attend larger universities where tuition and books cost more than $3,500, leaving nothing left over.
Congress appropriated approximately $4.3 million to the education department for the scholarships.
Executive Branch says “scholarships never in doubt”
What prompted the release is a story that ran in the Tulsa World Thursday titled, “Osage College Grants in Doubt.” The Executive Branch said the story, “grossly misrepresented the facts,” and that students and parents should ignore “the misstatements and inaccurate details reported in the Tulsa World.”
“This whole incident could have been avoided if those members of Congress who called the meeting just had the respect to call me or my Office to obtain the facts, their preference to sensationalize this by discrediting the Nation and misleading the public is truly disappointing,” said Osage Nation Principal Chief Jim Gray in the statement.
The Executive Branch contends that they are doing exactly what the education committee told them to do, which was to restructure the department and address “how funds are distributed, and what systems are in place to promote accountability in the expenditure of those funds.”
Chief Gray even went so far as to say that the Nation is striving to pay the full cost of college for all students in the future.
“In fact, we are striving toward 100 percent of tuition, fees and books to be covered for every Osage regardless of where they choose to attend college as this kind of incentive encourages Osages to do their best,” Gray said. “I can reassure parents that we will work individually with each student to ensure they receive as much financial assistance as is available from the Osage Nation.”
The next education committee meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sept. 9, in the congressional chambers on the Osage campus in Pawhuska.
To view the Executive Branch press release, click below: