Educating Children at the Pleasure of the Department of Defense

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A driver following Route 95 south from Fairfax County, Va., to Richmond will pass signs to two military installations: Ft. Belvoir, an Army post in Fairfax County, and Quantico, a Marine base in Prince William County. Both provide post housing, shopping, recreation, and so forth. But there the similarities end. At Quantico, the federal government also provides the cost of educating the children of the families who work and live on federal property, and the county taxpayers do not share those costs.

At Ft. Belvoir, the situation, since 1969, has been different. Using three buildings on post, Fairfax County provides for 1,100 elementary children, the staff, program, payment of all utility costs and telephone bills, and routine maintenance. In addition, Fairfax County provides for the education of some 600 students for whom no secondary school is available on post, including transportation to county schools.

In the past, Fairfax County's costs have been partially reimbursed by "impact aid" funds, allotted by the federal government to redress the local costs of providing school services for families that do not pay taxes such as those for personal property, income, auto licensing, sales or local property, from which school funding is derived. In addition, impact aid compensates local governments for the inability to tax real property on which military facilities are located. Although many Ft. Belvoir families may pay taxes in other states, the costs of educating their children fall on the taxpayers of Fairfax county.

Each year, impact-aid funds have declined, forcing more of the educational costs onto local taxpayers. In Fairfax County, these funds, covering all eligible children, have dropped from a high of $15.4 million in fiscal year 1975 to the fiscal 1981 allocation of $8.4 million, while enrollments have continued to increase. Three months into this school year, the fiscal 1982 funds have not yet been allocated by Congress. Responsible fiscal planning is impeded; we have no way of determining what assistance will be available from one year to the next.

Last year the Virginia General Assembly passed a law permitting local school boards whose impact-aid payments do not total at least 50 percent of the cost of educating the students residing on military reservations to admit students on a tuition basis if the parents are not domiciled residents of Virginia. In York County, tuition bills were sent home in June 1981.

The Fairfax County School Board spent four fruitless months between May and September attempting to work with the federal government to resolve this problem and ensure the uninterrupted education of the Ft. Belvoir children. Offered, but rejected, were our proposals to 1) enter into an agreement with the Department of Defense to provide for compensation of the actual costs of educating these children; 2) have the federal government take over these schools as it has done on Quantico; or 3) develop a contractual arrangement similar to our agreement with the City of Fairfax.

Only after the failure of our repeated efforts did the school board send tuition notices to the Ft. Belvoir families, noting that no payments would be required until final congressional action on the fiscal 1982 impact-aid funds. We noted in our August letter to the secretary of the defense, "It has been our desire to receive tuition payments from the federal government and not to impose such charges on the parents of students from Ft. Belvoir." We continue to educate these children, but the Department of Defense has made no effort to accept the responsibility for the educational services to military families who live distant from the areas in which they would be entitled to such services.

As federal impact aid becomes less dependable, localities must act prudently in the best interests of their taxpayers. They cannot be expected to absorb the federal costs, nor can they cut the funds available for educating the children of parents who do pay taxes in Virginia and Fairfax County. All these children need to be educated. The federal government must accept an equitable role for the education of the children whose parents serve and move at the pleasure of the Defense Department. The question is not complicated. It is a matter of simple fairness.

Vol. 01, Issue 12, Page 17

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