House Committee OKs Plans For Impact Aid, Even Start
The House Education and the Workforce Committee approved plans to revise the federal impact-aid and Even Start programs last week, completing two more pieces of its Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization.
The $906 million impact-aid program, the fifth largest in the K-12 budget, gives funds to school districts whose property-tax bases have been adversely affected by the presence of federal installations, such as military bases, that are tax-exempt.
Nearly every recent president, and some members of Congress, have taken aim at the 50-year-old program because they believe it to be laden with "pork barrel" projects and not targeted enough to districts with severe financial burdens. President Clinton proposed that the program's funding be cut to $770 million in his recent budget request for fiscal 2001.
Committee members agreed by voice vote last week to begin requiring the Department of Education to notify school districts when they miss the filing deadline to apply for such aid and to give them an extension. Districts have had trouble meeting the deadline because the forms are complex, and many district workers are not familiar with the process. ("Impact-Aid Districts Pay the Price When Federal Checks Come Late," June 2, 1999.)
That action "ensures that school districts will no longer have any excuses for missing filing deadlines," said Rep. Bill Goodling, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the committee.
The legislation, HR 3616, would also make minor changes to the program's funding formula. It would clarify that districts may include in their basic counts for the program students who live in privatized military housing, and may consider them to be "on base" students, who are compensated for at higher rates than off-base military dependents.
Conservative Republicans sided with President Clinton in attempting to further rework the funding formula to eliminate payments for "civilian students," whose parents work on federal properties but do not live in federal housing.
Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., offered an amendment that would have stripped funding for those students. He argued that the move would provide more funding for students who live on federal property.
But the plan ran into opposition from Democrats, who argued that all schools affected by the presence of federal properties need impact aid.
"We've got a delicate balance here, because the employer generally contributes to school districts," said Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich. "We should treat the federal government as an employer the same way we treat General Motors."
Mr. Tancredo's amendment failed, 26-16.
The National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, the lobbying group for many of the 1,600 schools that receive impact-aid checks, was pleased with the reauthorization, Executive Director John Forkenbrock said.
But he added that the group would still like to see more aid targeted to districts that serve large proportions of civilian students. Such districts are still suffering from formula changes made in the 1980s and in the 1994 ESEA reauthorization, Mr. Forkenbrock said.
The House committee also approved, by voice vote, a bill to reauthorize the Even Start family-literacy program, funded at $150 million last year. The bill, HR 3222, called the Literacy Involves Families Together Act, authorizes spending of up to $500 million each year.
Under the new plan, states would be required to review the progress of local programs to ensure they were meeting their goals. It would allow the program to serve children over the age of 8 if schools used Title I money to pay a portion of those services.
It would also require Even Start programs to use research-based methods, and would authorize a new reading-research project to find the best ways to teach reading skills to adults.
Under an amendment offered by Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., the legislation would clarify that religious organizations were eligible to provide family-literacy services if they chose.
With the passage of the two bills, the House education committee has approved five pieces of its ESEA plan. It will consider legislation to reauthorize the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Program, technology programs, and the remaining ESEA programs next month.
Congressional lawmakers are hoping to finish the ESEA reauthorization by the end of this year.
The Senate has not approved any parts of its ESEA reauthorization, but the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee plans to introduce and vote on its omnibus bill on March 1.
Vol. 19, Issue 24, Page 26