Impact-Aid Legislation Advances In Congress; Budget Still Unfinished
One piece of the voluminous Elementary and Secondary Education Act appears on track for reauthorization this year: Members of Congress last week attached language on the impact-aid program to bipartisan Department of Defense legislation headed to President Clinton's desk.
Money from the program, which was funded at $900 million in fiscal 2000, goes to school districts that lose local property-tax revenues because of the presence of federal installations, such as military bases, in their communities.
As of late last week, however, Congress still had not passed a fiscal 2001 appropriations bill for the Department of Education.
Both chambers approved a "continuing resolution" to keep the government running through Oct. 20 without a new budget. The new fiscal year began Oct. 1.
Rep. Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, and House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma played a key role in getting the impact-aid legislation attached to the DOD bill, which was approved last week by the House and the Senate. The president is expected to sign the bill into law.
Bill Shapard, a spokesman for Rep. Watts, said the decision to attach impact aid to the Defense Department bill came after it became clear that Congress would not reauthorize the ESEA this year. "The momentum just hasn't materialized," he said.
In the past, some lobbyists and congressional aides have been skeptical about adopting part of the $15 billion ESEA, rather than a single overarching bill.
But Rep. Goodling opted to break up the reauthorization process for the ESEA—the main federal law in K-12 education— into a series of bills this year, most of which have been approved by the House.
By contrast, the Senate worked with one ESEA bill that has been stalled since the spring. In both chambers, broad ESEA policy differences remain.
The version of the impact-aid legislation attached to the defense package is similar in most respects to a bipartisan impact-aid bill that was overwhelmingly passed by the House in May.
The new impact-aid legislation would make relatively minor changes to the current law, said John B. Forkenbrock, the executive director of the Washington-based National Association of Federally Impacted Schools.
Among other provisions, the bill would change the formula for payments to ensure a more equitable distribution, guarantee more money for "heavily impacted" districts, and provide more time for districts that miss the filing deadlines for funding. Despite last week's action, the next Congress could choose to revisit impact aid next year and include it in a larger ESEA reauthorization package.
Vol. 20, Issue 7, Pages 22-23