DARBY, Mont. - The federal government program offering free academic and vocational training to eligible students 16 to 24 is feeling serious cuts. That's because the branch of the federal agency overseeing national Job Corps funding admits it mismanaged close to $100 million earmarked for training facilities nationwide.
So new enrollments are capped through June for all Job Corps training facilities across the country.
It affects three schools in Montana. The Anaconda Job Corps Center, Kicking Horse in Ronan, and Trapper Creek in Darby.
Trapper Creek would see half its students disappear.
The training center's community relations representative said that school alone pumps $2 million a year into the local economy.
"Trapper Creek is graduating about 85 percent of their students and they're actually entering the work force earning over $11 an hour," said Dale Huhtanen, Trapper Creek's community relations representative.
"If you're in the workforce you're paying taxes and social security,"s aid Huhtanen, "You're not in the workforce you're collecting unemployment."
The cuts leave potential students in limbo.
While a senate subcommittee plans to hold a hearing to find out where the money went, some Congressman are fighting proposed cuts. Others are outraged. Job Corps boosted the careers for tens of thousands of Americans.
One Westfork family knows firsthand.
Kent Niles catches a few hours downtime with his dog before going to work. The 20-year-old Stevensville man is a welder.
"That's good to hear," said Niles.
He would like to go to Alaska or Hawaii for underwater welding. He's one of eight siblings who grew up in the Westfork near Darby.
His dad, whose name is also Kent Niles, runs excavation and utility trailer repair businesses. He passed onto his kids practical skills that, to him, come naturally. But dad honed his skills a harder way.
"On the job training," said the elder Niles. "The kids got a jump on that having trade school training."
Kent and Rebecca Niles show off sheets of family photos. Their Job Corps grads are on their own. But four children are still at home.
Some of the Niles kids are adopted. Some are special needs.
"I was looking for success stories," said Trapper Creek's Curtis Brickley, "and one name kept re-occuring, only the first name was different, and it was the Niles family."
Most of the Niles children are, or were, home schooled.
We taught the basics said Rebecca Niles, "how to live right and to take care of finances."
Anjelina Niles graduated in office administration at Trapper. She's working as a night manager at a hotel in Dillon, and recovering from a car accident. She wants to get her Ph.D. in psychology.
Anjelina said Job Corps exposed her to a diversity of people striving to become successful.
Lynn Niles graduated in carpentry. She is in the Army National Guard working in security at Fort Harrison. She's studying for a B.A. in intelligence or counter-intelligence.
Suzanne Niles is studying performing arts at the University of Montana. The dance and theatre major learned to use tools at home. She learned carpentry at Job Corps. Suzanne thinks carpentry is a great foundation.
"It helped me to learn attention to detail," said Suzanne, "that carries over into theater, acting and dance."
If theater loses its attraction, the UM student, she's confident she can get a job in any cabinet shop.