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Ill. Bill Seeks Help Educating Military Dependents

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Setting up a confrontation with the federal government over the cost of educating military dependents, a committee of the Illinois House has approved a bill to allow some school districts to carve military bases out of their boundaries.

By using the threat of effectively denying the children of military personnel access to public education, the bill seeks to force the federal government either to increase its impact-aid payments to districts or to establish separate schools, with full federal funding, on the bases.

"I guess one of the reasons for this bill is to answer the question--and it will probably be answered in federal court--of who is responsible for the education of militarily connected kids,'' said Griff Powell, the superintendent of Highwood-Highland Park School District 111 and a chief supporter of the bill. "I can't think of any other way to frame the issue than by taking both [levels] of government and providing a confrontation between them.''

Sponsored by Representative Grace Mary Stern, Democrat of Highland Park, the bill was approved unanimously this month by the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee.

"This is not at all aimed at the children,'' she said. "It is aimed at our bullheaded government.''

Charles Hansen, who directs the U.S. Education Department's impact-aid office, said federal officials would wait until the bill passes and a district acts to excise a base before responding. He noted, however, that a recent federal law gives the department authority to deny school districts impact-aid payments if it is determined that district boundaries have been changed to increase such payments.

Still, in the first test of the law last year, the department overruled Mr. Hansen and allowed two North Dakota districts to remain eligible for aid payments even after a state law created separate districts on the Minot and Grand Forks Air Force Bases.

Five Illinois districts would be eligible to redraw their boundaries under the bill, including three in Chicago's northern suburbs that are considered to be most affected by a shortfall in federal aid.

Taxpayers in Mr. Powell's district, for example, must make up $1.5 million annually because impact aid pays for only $2,100 of the $6,500 cost per pupil, he said. Nearby Fort Sheridan includes 422 school-age children.--M.P.

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