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Supreme Court Declines Case Disputing Allocation of Impact Aid

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Washington

The U.S. Supreme Court refused last week to hear the appeal of a school district in New York state that argued it was cheated out of $2 million in federal impact aid over five years because Congress did not follow its own rules for financing the program.

Also last week, the court agreed to review the constitutionality of the exclusion of women from the Virginia Military Institute.

The impact-aid program compensates districts that lose tax revenue due to the presence of federal property and federal workers, generally determined by the number of children enrolled whose parents live or work on federal land.

The 1988 law reauthorizing the program specified that the category of districts that contain federally owned land was entitled to full funding under the statutory formula, even when appropriations for the whole program fell short of authorized amounts.

That category includes New York's Highland Falls-Fort Montgomery Central school district, which brought the lawsuit. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point takes up more than half of the district's property.

Congressional Intent

When Congress appropriated money for the impact-aid program from 1989 to 1993, it earmarked less for that category of districts than they were entitled to under the reauthorization statute.

The Highland Falls district estimates that it lost out on almost $2 million over those five years. The amount is significant in a district with a total annual budget of about $10 million, said John L. Krause, its interim superintendent.

"It's really created some hardships," he said.

The district argued that the federal Department of Education should distribute impact-aid funds based on the authorizing statute because the appropriations measures do not clearly reverse the policy of fully funding certain districts.

But the federal government argued that the appropriations laws were intended to override the authorizing law. Two lower federal courts agreed and threw out the district's lawsuit.

"We have great difficulty imagining a more direct statement of Congressional intent than the appropriations statutes at issue here," said a ruling in February by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

The Supreme Court declined without comment on Oct. 2 to hear the district's appeal in Highland Falls-Fort Montgomery Central School District v. U.S. (Case No. 94-2058).

When Congress again reauthorized the impact-aid law last year, lawmakers replaced the system of district categories with a formula that assigns weights to different types of students based on their theoretical financial impact. It also includes provisions that shift more aid to the districts most heavily dependent on the program. (See Education Week, Nov. 2, 1994.)

V.M.I. Case

In the Virginia case, U.S. v. Virginia (No. 94-1941), the high court will review a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that education programs for men and women can be "separate but substantially comparable."

The Fourth Circuit court issued that ruling in January in a challenge to VMI's all-male status that was brought by the U.S. Department of Justice. The court allowed the public military college to establish a separate leadership program for women at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Va.

This case, which the high court will hear early next year, will determine the fate of the all-male tradition at both VMI and the Citadel in Charleston, S.C., the nation's only other state-run, single-sex institution. (See Education Week, Aug. 3, 1994.)

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