Senate Passes Bill To Boost Payments To Districts Affected by Base Closings
By Julie A. Miller
Washington--The Senate last week approved legislation that would allow larger payments under the federal impact-aid program to school districts that lose students and revenue due to impending military-base closings.
Provided that the Congress appropriated sufficient funds, the new provision would allot districts losing students under those circumstances 90 percent of the previous year's impact-aid payment for the first four years of the cutback.
The provision, which was attached to legislation authorizing a $6-million assessment of the Chapter 1 compensatory-education program, is crucial for 12 school districts that are bracing for significant plunges in their enrollments when nearby military bases are shut down or cut back. (See Education Week, April 18, 1990.)
One of the districts' largest concerns is their allotments of impact aid, which compensates school districts whose local tax revenue is limited by the presence of federal workers or property. Impact aid is a major source of revenue for districts serving many military families.
A provision was added to the impact-aid law in 1978 that allows districts losing at least 10 percent of their students in a year due to decreases in federal activity to receive 90 percent of the previous year's payment.
But the Education Department recently decided that the wording of the law provides that the portion of a district's allocation to be paid for departed students would be calculated as if they were "b" students--those whose parents either live or work on federal property--even though the students may in fact have been "a" students, whose parents live and work on federal land.
The distinction is significant, as students in the latter category draw from 80 to 96 percent more impact aid than "b" children do.
The Portsmouth, N.H., schools, which will be the first to suffer losses as nearby Pease Air Force Base is shut down over the course of this year, would receive about $1.9 million the year after the closing as a result of the revision approved last week, but only $250,000 under the department's interpretation, according to Superintendent Timothy R. Monahan. The district received about $2.2 million from the program last year, he said.
Both the impact-aid amendments and the Chapter 1 assessment bill, HR 3910, were approved by unanimous consent. The bill will return to the House, which approved it in February without any extraneous provisions.
The Senate amendments would also:
- Make ineligible for impact aid districts that are created or "reconstituted" primarily to increase the aid their schools would be due under the program.
A Senate aide confirmed that the provision is a response to reports last year that several districts were considering such a maneuver.
The apparent originator of the8idea was the North Dakota Board of Education, which decided in June 1989 to make the Grand Forks Air Base a separate district, which would have no local tax base at all and thus would be eligible for substantial amounts of aid.
The district was to be autonomous in name only for two years and operate separate schools thereafter. In the interim, its impact aid would go to the nearby Grand Forks district, where children from the base are now enrolled. The district's impact-aid enrollment had dropped to the point that it could have lost eligibility for the highest level of aid, costing it about $1 million per year. (See Education Week, Aug. 2, 1989.)
- Extend until June 29 this year's application deadline for impact aid and establish a policy on late applications, which have been a perennial problem. The policy would require the Congress to grant extensions legislatively to save tardy districts from losing their aid.
This year, more than 120 districts missed the deadline, a number said to have been inflated by the Education Department's decision to streamline the application process by having them sent directly to Washington, rather than to intermediaries in state education agencies. Many districts sent their forms to state offices, where officials assumed they did not have to pass them on.
The new law establishes a 60-day grace period, during which tardy districts' applications would be accepted, but their awards would be docked by 10 percent.