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Virginia Board To Study Creating School District at Military Base

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The Virginia Board of Education has delayed the Fairfax County, Va., school board's plan to exclude a military base from its district as a tactic in the district's fight with the federal government over impact-aid cuts.

Independent District

The state board effectively prevented further action by the local officials this month, when it voted to conduct its own study of a proposal by the school system that the Fort Belvoir military base, which is part of the Fairfax County school district, be turned into an independent school district.

The school system had earlier suggested it would either charge tuition for the 1,570 children from Fort Belvoir who attend the county public schools or ask the federal government to assume financial responsibility for operating the schools.

At issue is $10 million in impact-aid payments that Fairfax County received from the Education Department last year. Approximately $2.4 million of that amount was reimbursement for the education of Fort Belvoir children, whose parents work and live on the military reservation, paying no county property taxes.

Officials Fear Cuts

Although Fairfax budget officials do not yet know the amount of im-pact-aid money they will receive for the current year, fiscal 1982, they are concerned that the cuts could be as great as 42 percent, which is the overall reduction in the 1982 impact-aid budget made recently by the Congress. (See chart on page 8.)

The Fairfax school system and another Virginia school system, York County, asked the state board for permission to redraw the school-district boundaries to separate themselves from Fort Belvoir.

The state board members, however, in addition to deciding the plan required further study, ordered the state department of education to look at the feasibility--and the legality--of creating separate military districts.

In order to open the new districts by the beginning of the 1982-83 school year, the board would have to approve the plan before mid-January when the 1982 session of the Virginia General Assembly convenes.

Controversy Began in Fall

The impact-aid controversy began this fall, when Fairfax--in anticipation of the Administration's fiscal 1982 budget cuts--announced it would levy tuition fees upon military-base parents.

Under a Virginia law passed last spring, school districts may charge tuition to such parents if the federal government does not reimburse the school system for at least 50 percent of the cost of educating children who live on federal property.

The Justice Department filed suit against the Fairfax district and the Commonwealth of Virginia in October on the grounds that the tuition charges violate both a federal law prohibiting taxation of military families in more than one state and the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Lawsuit Scheduled

That lawsuit was scheduled to begin last Friday in Federal District Court in Alexandria, Va.

The school board's position, said Thomas J. Cawley, a lawyer for the Fairfax board, is that "non-domiciled" students on military reservations are not entitled to a free education.

James W. Maza, chief lobbyist for the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools--which represents 1,000 of the 4,000 schools throughout the U.S. that benefit from federal impact aid--said he was not surprised that the state board delayed action on the redistricting plan.

"They only had the plan to look at about one month in advance of the decision," he said. "I was afraid they would reject it completely.''

Mr. Maza's more immediate concern, he said, are rumors that the 1983 federal budget will contain still more cuts for impact aid, and that the figure passed by Congress for 1982 could be subject to budget recision. He says that, according to Office of Management and Budget proposals, the impact aid budget in 1983 could be as low as $200 million, down from the $756.7 million the program received in 1981.

No Payments to 'B' Students

Under that plan, there would be no payments to so-called "B" students, those whose parents live in federal housing or live on private property but work on tax-exempt federal property.

Districts classified as "Super A"--those in which students' families live and work on federal property--would receive 80 percent of their 1981 payments under the rumored plan, he said.

"Our people really got panicked when they heard this," Mr. Maza said. "There are districts out there right now that would just close their doors at that level of funding."

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