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Making An Impact

After several years of fighting to keep their heads above water, lobbyists for the impact-aid program emerged as some of the biggest winners in last year's federal budget sweepstakes.

Impact-aid funding for fiscal 1998 rose more than 10 percent, to $808 million--its highest level ever--after languishing at around $700 million throughout the 1990s.

What made the difference?

Several factors--ranging from education's high priority in President Clinton's budget plan to friends in high places--converged to boost the program's funding in the budget passed late last year, according to the executive director of the Washington-based group representing schools receiving money from the program.

The first sign that impact aid could do well came when Mr. Clinton released his fiscal 1998 budget proposal in early 1997, John B. Forkenbrock, the head of the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, wrote in the group's December newsletter.

John B. Forkenbrock

The president recommended a $72 million cut for the program, which compensates districts for the adverse financial effects of federal properties within their boundaries. But his proposal to raise education spending overall by $3 billion put pressure on Republicans to match his generosity to schools, Mr. Forkenbrock wrote.

With an increase assured for education programs, impact-aid schools benefited because the chairmen of the education appropriations panels in both the House and Senate represent school districts that rely on impact-aid money, Mr. Forkenbrock said.

Even so, in past years, impact aid struggled to win increases with similar factors in its favor. What made the difference last year, Mr. Forkenbrock said, was the concerted effort of a coalition of 150 members of Congress dedicated solely to raising impact-aid funding.

The 1,600 districts receiving such grants shouldn't rest on their laurels, he added. After winning increases in the past, the program became the target of cuts in following years.

"The question now we have to ask ourselves is how will these ingredients measure up next year," Mr. Forkenbrock concluded.

--DAVID J. HOFF [email protected]

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