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Congress Tells E.D. To Start Making Impact-Aid Payments

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Washington--The Education Department (ed) has been ordered under the terms of a temporary federal spending bill to begin making preliminary fiscal 1983 impact-aid payments to school districts whose local tax revenues have been reduced by the presence of large federal installations.

But a spokesman for a national organization representing those districts said last week that it is too early to tell whether receipt of the payments will affect some of the districts' plans to charge tuition of those children who live on or whose parents work at the federal properties.

The impact-aid payment order was contained in the fiscal 1983 continuing resolution passed by the Congress on Oct. 1 and signed into law by President Reagan the next day.

The order, offered as an amendment to the temporary funding bill by Senator J. James Exon, Democrat of Nebraska, requires ed to:

Provide school districts enrolling class "A" children--those who live on federal property and whose parents work on federal property or are in the military--with preliminary fiscal 1983 impact-aid payments of 75 percent of the amount that they received in fiscal 1982.

Provide school districts enrolling class "B" children--those who meet only one of the qualifications for class "A"--with preliminary impact-aid payments of 50 percent of the amount they received in fiscal 1982.

In the fiscal year 1982, the federal government spent a total of $455 million on the impact-aid program. The final fiscal 1981 appropriation for the program was $681 million.

Jon H. Oberg, an aide to Senator Exon, said the amendment was necessary because the original language of the continuing resolution would have instructed ed to make no preliminary payments to the affected school districts "except in cases of undue hardship."

Mr. Oberg also pointed out that the impact-aid program, unlike most other federal education programs, is not "forward funded," meaning that any delay in the distribution of program funds "has an immediate negative effect on those districts."

The impact-aid amendment remains in effect for the course of the temporary funding measure, which is set to expire on Dec. 15.

William J. Phillips, acting director of ed's division of impact aid, said last week that department officials "are trying to get the payments out as early as we can."

"We've just received a copy of the legislation recently and are now in the process of determining just what it means," he said.

Government Distribution

Donald J. Clark, a spokesman for the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, estimated that the amendment would require the federal government to distribute "somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million to $250 million" in impact aid between now and December.

The Reagan Administration, however, has requested only $287 million for the program for the entire fiscal year.

Mr. Clark said that he is "not worried" that federal impact-aid dollars will stop flowing to affected school districts shortly after December.

"Congress has already indicated that that there are a lot of things that it doesn't like about the President's budget request," including the proposed cuts in impact aid, Mr. Clark said. He also pointed out that the House Appropriations Committee has given its approval to an ed funding bill that would set the ceiling on impact-aid spending in fiscal 1983 at $425 million.

Several school districts across the country have threatened to refuse to admit military dependent children unless their parents pay tuition to help offset reductions in impact aid.

Late last month, the Justice Department filed suit against the Onslow County, N.C., Board of Education for planning to charge tuition of children whose parents live and work at the Marine Corps barracks at Camp Lejeune.

Everett L. Waters, superintendent of the district, said last Wednesday that he had received a subpoena in the mail that day requiring the district to respond to the federal government's charges against it within 20 days.

In a related event, New Jersey Governor Thomas H. Kean is expected to sign into law a bill to help affected school districts make up for lost impact aid.

The bill was approved by both state legislative chambers last June, then conditionally vetoed by the Governor on Sept. 20, according to John White, an aide to state Assembly Education Committee Chairman Mildred Garvin.

"The Governor asked the legislature to make some technical changes to the bill, and they approved a version that he said he could back on Sept. 30," Mr. White said. "The bill is currently back on the Governor's desk awaiting action."

The measure, he said, would order the state education department to negotiate contracts with the federal government to ensure that school districts received an adequate amount of money to cover the cost of educating federal military dependents.

If the negotiations failed or if sufficient funding is not provided, the state education department could charge the federal agencies tuition for the education of the federal employees' children. If the tuition was not paid, the state could impose fines of $30 per day against the federal agencies for each of the children being educated.

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