A Closer Look At Federal Impact Aid
Children of active duty members are worth more to public schools than local children. Why? It’s most likely your public school receives additional funding, known as Federal Impact Aid, from the Department of Education for children of active duty members. However, this military child-specific funding is not directly invested into your military child or programs that support their unique needs, but instead categorized as unrestricted funds to be applied as schools deem necessary.
What is Federal Impact Aid?
According to the U.S. Department of Education,
“The mission of the Impact Aid Program is to disburse Impact Aid payments to local educational agencies that are financially burdened by federal activities and to provide technical assistance and support services to staff and other interested parties.”
Basic Support Payments (the type of funding most schools apply for) help local school districts that educate federally connected children. These children may be associated with uniformed service members, reside on Indian lands Federal property or in federally subsidized low-rent housing, and children whose parents work on Federal Property. A school district must educate at least 400 such children average daily attendance or the connected children must make up at least three percent of the school district’s total average daily attendance.”
Federal Impact Aid, which has been steadily increasing over the last 30+ years, is not funded by through the Department of Defense; rather, it’s it is funded through congressional appropriations to the Department of Education. Impact Aid was first offered in the early 1980s as an $850,000 Congressional appropriation and has reached a whopping $1.28 billion – yeah, that’s a Billion with B – today. Approximately 40 percent of Impact Aid goes to districts educating military children.
Personally, I know school districts need as much help as they can get. Schools are often one of the first services to feel the pinch in a slow economy, as has been the case since tax revenue down in most cities over the past decade (taxes and bonds mostly fund schools). I’m glad they are tapping into every available revenue stream. However, I think school districts have become almost complacent with military-connected children and this carte blanche revenue stream – they’ve forgotten why they receive this money. My children – our children – have become just another revenue source.
Walk with me down this government bureaucrat logic trail: supposedly, federally connected children are indicators of an area’s lower tax base (think military families or those who reside in federally-subsidized housing; their lower salaries translate into lower property and sales tax revenue for the local government). Thus, educators do not have the same resource base to draw from when educating these federally connected children in a financially-disadvantaged area, so FIA is the federal government’s way of helping out. It’s the school district’s “bonus” from the federal government for conducting business in areas with large concentrations of military children. Even though, as military families, we still pay taxes, property taxes through rent or ownership, sales tax, state tax on spouse’s income if working, and all fees associated with utilities. The only thing that is missing could be the active duty spouse’s income – which is not taxed by the state, and that could be considered a loss of revenue for schools.
Aid is also offered as payout payoff for federal property lands located in a tax district, since in which neither the state (and therefore schools cannot derive funds from such land.) However, I would argue that federal lands and federal employees (DoD related) enhance the economies of the cities/counties in which they are located in countless ways. You never hear about a community excited by the prospect of military base closure. No, because the base or installation is a huge player in that community’s economy, in many cases the engine that drives all other business.
It seems a bit convoluted to me.
If you’re getting funding for us, you should know who we are.
If my children are deemed at some level to be a financial burden and therefore schools districts are compensated for their presence (logic which I’m struggling to follow), I expect schools to acknowledge them. There are some amazing teachers, principals and staff across the country that “get” the military family lifestyle – we don’t want to forget them; they have made a difference to our children. But, they are the exceptions to the rule.
Very few teachers and administrators working in schools with military-connected children truly understand the needs and challenges of children with parents in the armed forces. Very few are exposed to the details of the federal compact between states – Military Children’s Interstate Compact Commission) and why it has been approved by all 50 states. Very few teachers and administrators understand how often our families move, how a decade and a half of combat has affected our children, and the inexplicable curriculum inequalities and variations mandated between and even within states. Expecting teachers and administrators to know us is not too high a bar to set in exchange for the extra funding schools earn simply for our children’s presence.
Military children are in a group of their own.
There is a big push in the military community and in recent findings by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission to identify military-dependent children. The January 2015report states, “Military dependent children experience unique stresses associated with parental deployments and frequent relocations that may adversely affect academic performance. At least 12 states have implemented or are in the process of implementing, a military dependent student identifier, but inconsistencies in current implementations are introducing reporting errors. ”
Also, in a report conducted by University of Southern California Department of Social Work study recommends designating military dependent children as a specific cultural group – similar to children living below the poverty line and children with disabilities. Schools receive federal funding for both of the latter categories as well. Children of military families will become a subset group tracked by the federal government. Why? Due to the unique stressors placed on our families by more than a decade of war and to create ways to better understand and support them.
The money survey.
I won’t go into the trivial details of Federal Impact Aid because, like any federal program, there are pages and pages to digest. One of the most important details is that school districts can apply for four categories, and most schools pick the “unrestricted” category. There is funding for a military-connected special needs children, payment for federal property and capital improvement projects but schools have to account for that spending and are restricted to what the funds can be used for.
You will be asked to fill out a federal survey this fall, and your child’s school will beg you to checking the box that identifies you as a federally-connected family. This is the money survey; all FIA funding is predicated on these surveys being returned, and the district will tabulate our responses to calculate the funding they can expect to receive.
Please fill out these forms, funding to your school district is too important – for every child! But when you do fill out the form, attached a note introducing yourself and your family – start the conversation.
Fairfax County School District in Virginia, one of the larger federally-impacted schools, receives $3 million yearly in Impact Aid for federally-connected children (uniformed service, DoD civilians and those who live on federal land). Beavercreek School District near Dayton, Ohio, a comparatively small school district, receives approximately $400,000 annually for the nearly 900 federally-connected students who make up 12% of the student population. FIA funding is a substantial portion of many schools budgets.
These two school districts spend Impact Aid on whatever they desire: teacher salaries, chalkboards, after-school or band programs, new basketballs or pencils – who knows what they spend it on? Schools are not required to report or account for this unrestricted funding.
I don’t mean to single out Fairfax County and Beavercreek; they aren’t violating any FIA rules and they don’t do anything different from every other school that receives FIA funding. I can name a hundred schools that have received aid – but I can’t easily find the amount they’ve received. The funding amount and which schools received funding are not listed anywhere – nowhere. You really have to find a needle in a haystack. Luckily, I like finding needles.
The FIA program must be more transparent and more accessible. And, once the payments are made to the schools, amounts should be listed on the www.ED.gov site for all to review. Furthermore, schools should be required to report how they chose to allocate the additional resources.
Give us a nod.
I’m not asking for special treatment for my military-dependent child. Ok, well, maybe I am. But it’s not necessarily treatment – it’s a better understanding of them. I’m asking for schools to acknowledge their unique needs. I’m asking for a little support. I’m looking for at least a nod or awareness that our children do have unique stressors, such as relocating or going through a deployment or parent injury. Studies have shown time and time again that a positive school experience can ease the stress of relocation and deployments on military-dependent children.
Some schools connect better with military families than others. Districts like Fairfax County Public Schools and San Antonio Independent School District do a good job integrating military-connected students into the school. But they are exception, not the rule, and they could do more. And, let’s be honest: for $3 million a year, I expect them to be in all things military family-related.
Schools districts CAN do more.
A school district should a have an understanding of our children, who they are and how to support them if the district applies for and receives Impact Aid. Every school is different, so a “one size fits all” approach is not the answer. While I recognize that flexibility is a must in education, there are several common parameters that schools should keep in mind when developing programs to support military-connected children:
- A school website designated for inbound military-connected parents and students. This section should include vital information about registration, curriculum, contacts and resources.
- A buddy group, student sponsor or friendship group for new students at each school in their district. This is a MUST!
- Offer special assistance in understanding new curriculum, credit transferal and credit adaption from state to state or DoDEA schools or international and American schools overseas.
- Every teacher, principal and administrative staff should be familiar with the Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission.
- Deployment support groups for parents and students.
- Encourage PTO and PTAs to establish a military family liaison position to specifically connect with and assist newly-arrived military families.
- Professional development and/or in-service training for every teacher, principal, and administrative staff member on the unique stressors military children face.
- Celebrate Purple Up (Month of the Military Child) in April.
These are simple suggestions, but they are potentially game game-changers for military families. Asking schools districts to make a few simple tweaks on a website or offering easy-to-maintain and low-cost support for military families can make all the world of difference to them.
I call on schools districts across the country to invest a little extra in federally connected children – especially since they are receiving funding for our children.
I know my military children are worth more to you. Your budget proves it.
Now show me.
If you want to dig deeper, find out if your child’s school receives Impact Aid, and, if so, how much. Families on the Home Front is a parenting and advocate network dedicated to maintaining educational continuity for military children. We’ll help you identify the right school contact and assist in filing a Freedom of Information Act request if necessary.
Find that needle in the haystack and, before you fill out the survey this fall, ask your child’s school if they could do more for military-connected children.
*A previous version of this article appeared in Military Spouse Magazine.