Bill Allowmg E.D. To Speed Impact Aid Before Congress
WASHINGTON--The House was poised late last week to give final approval to a bill allowing the Education Department to make early payments to impact-aid districts.
The bill--which would give the department's office of impact aid the authority to issue a district a payment equal to as much as 75 percent of its aid in the preceding year--was approved by the Senate Oct. 24.
Impact aid is not forward-funded, as are other education programs, and payments have been based on current-year attendance data to help districks that receive large numbers of new students in one year. As a result, districts have not been able to receive all their impact-aid funds until late in the school year, when the data are submitted and processed.
The preliminary payments, which had been in use for years until this fall and will be again once the new bill is enacted, are intended to provide a more timely infusion of cash.
The Congress made a mistake earlier this year, however, by eliminating authority for such preliminary payments without replacing it with another set of rules, as had been intended.
The provision eliminating preliminary payments was included in a dropcut-prevention bill enacted last summer. But a companion provision that would have instead required the department to base districts' entire payments on prior-year data was dropped from the bill at the behest of a key senator, who in turn was responding to a complaint from a constituent. (See Education Week, Oct. 16, 1991.)
The department was then left without authority to make any payments before firm, current-year enrollment figures were received from districts next spring.
A Month's Delay
Under the new bill, any school district in which impact-aid students make up at least 20 percent of enrollment will be able to receive immediately 75 percent of the payment it received during the previous year. Other impacted districts will be able to receive 50 percent of their previous-year payment.
Charles E. Hansen, director of the department's impact-aid office, said districts should receive their payments as soon as President Bush signs the bill.
Although an appropriations bill for education had not been approved by the Congress as of last week, Mr. Hansen said the Office of Management and Budget will make available $130 million for preliminary payments to the neediest districts until a bill is signed.
What we've done is queue up the districts that have indicated a hardship, and we'll pay them first," he said.
John Forkenbrock, executive director of the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, credited two Democratic senators, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island, for sponsoring the legislation.
Mr. Pell, who chairs the Senate education subcommittee, had been responsible for deleting the prioryear provision from the dropout bill.
Mr. Forkenbrock said the earlier legislative mix-up has delayed payments to districts by about a month.