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Ill. District Seeks To Force U.S. To Boost Impact Aid

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An Illinois school district is using an untested state law to try to force the federal government to pay more for educating children who live on a military base in its district.

North Shore School District #112, which serves Highland Park and other affluent suburbs north of Chicago, is seeking to detach from its jurisdiction a former Army base that is used for overflow housing for the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, a major Navy installation several miles to the north.

If the former Army base, Fort Sheridan, is detached successfully using a 1992 state law, then the North Shore district could charge the federal government up to 110 percent of its per-pupil cost to educate the approximately 250 children who live on the base, Superintendent Darrell Lund said.

"We are the first ones to try to take advantage of this state statute,'' Mr. Lund said. "The big question is ... is it going to hold up constitutionally?''

The law says that a school district with 100 or more students living on a military base can seek to have the base detached; however, the district must still educate those children on a tuition basis unless the federal government makes other arrangements.

The North Shore district was created two years ago when two smaller districts were consolidated. One of those districts was the Highland Park-Highwood district, which "was practically bankrupt because of the shortfall'' between its per-pupil spending and the amount of impact aid it received, Mr. Lund said.

The district currently spends about $8,900 per student and receives $2,100 in impact aid per student from the U.S. Education Department. The federal contribution is scheduled to drop to $800 next year because the Fort Sheridan students, as a result of consolidation, now make up a smaller proportion of the North Shore district.

Another suburban Chicago district that is closer to the Great Lakes naval base last year voted to dissolve in protest of what it considered inadequate state funding and federal impact aid. North Chicago School District #187 withdrew its application to dissolve last summer after a boost in state aid. (See Education Week, Sept. 8, 1993, and April 7, 1993.)

The Affluence Divide

John Forkenbrock, the executive director of the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, said the North Shore case is an example of the gulf between the above-average per-pupil spending of some districts and the amount of impact aid the federal government can afford.

"The biggest differences between districts and the federal government are in affluent areas,'' he said. "The big question is, what is the maximum responsibility of the federal government?''

The North Shore district has taken steps to detach Fort Sheridan, and the federal government appears likely to fight the attempt.

The Lake County Regional Board of School Trustees on Jan. 31 approved the detachment. A Defense Department lawyer argued against the move before the regional board.

A spokesman for the Education Department's impact-aid program said the situation was being reviewed.

Edward J. Gonwa, the Lake County regional superintendent, said he plans to approve the district's detachment petition, after which the federal government or other parties may appeal to a state administrative-law judge. The case likely will end up in court, several observers said.

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