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Appeals Court Bars Tuition for Children of Military Personnel

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A federal appeals court ruled last week that a North Carolina school district cannot charge tuition for the children of military personnel to make up for reductions in federal impact aid.

"The federal Constitution will not abide by this attempt ... to balance school budgets at the expense of those who have undertaken to serve our country in arms," wrote the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in a case involving the Onslow County, N.C., Board of Education.

$245 Annual Tuition

In July 1982, the county school board, taking advantage of a state law enacted a year earlier, approved a resolution requiring all county nonresidents enrolled in the local schools to pay $245 annual tuition. Approximately 2,000 students would have been affected by the policy.

The 1981 law permitted school districts to charge tuition for children whose families permanently reside and pay taxes in another state and for children from military families, as long as federal impact-aid payments failed to cover half of the cost of their schooling.

The school district, which serves children of parents based at the nearby Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base, had lost more than $500,000 during the previous two years as a result of federal reductions in impact aid. The school board agreed not to implement the tuition policy while it was being contested in federal court.

Last May, U.S. District Judge F. T. Dupree Jr. declared the policy and the state law permitting it unconstitutional.

Judge Dupree found that the tuition policy and the law "intentionally discriminated" against the federal government, and thus ran afoul of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The school board appealed his decision.

The appeals court's ruling was based, in part, on a 1940 federal law that frees military personnel from double taxation--in their state of residence and the state in which they are based.

Several other school systems around the country, including two in northern Virgina and a third that serves the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, have attempted to take similar action.--tm

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