More than 1,200 school districts across the country have good portions of federally owned land within their borders.
This causes a problem for them because they don’t receive property taxes from these parcels. And, of course, they can’t be developed to generate property taxes because they’re owned by the federal government.
The Impact Aid Program was designed to address this issue. Overseen by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, it provides funding for these school districts to compensate for the annual loss of property taxes.
“Many local school districts across the United States include within their boundaries parcels of land that are owned by the federal government or that have been removed from the local tax rolls by the federal government, including Indian lands. These school districts face special challenges — they must provide a quality education to the children living on the Indian and other federal lands and meet the requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act, while sometimes operating with less local revenue than is available to other school districts because the federal property is exempt from local property taxes,” according to information about the program on its website. “Since 1950, Congress has provided financial assistance to these local school districts through the Impact Aid Program. Impact Aid was designed to assist local school districts that have lost property tax revenue due to the presence of tax-exempt federal property or that have experienced increased expenditures due to the enrollment of federally connected children, including children living on Indian lands. The Impact Aid law (now Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965) provides assistance to local school districts with concentrations of children residing on Indian lands, military bases, low-rent housing properties or other federal properties and, to a lesser extent, concentrations of children who have parents in the uniformed services or employed on eligible federal properties who do not live on federal property.”
The presence of Fort Drum in Northern New York makes the Impact Aid Program necessary. Local school districts that rely on this funding include Carthage Central School District, Indian River Central School District and Sackets Harbor Central School District.
The outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic last year resulted in significant funding cuts to school districts. For those affected by federally owned land, this proved particularly difficult.
Fortunately, members of Congress increased its funding for the Impact Aid Program in the fiscal year 2021 budget they recently passed. They appropriated $1.5 billion for the program, an increase of $15 million over the previous year.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., helped make this possible. She wrote a letter with U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., to bring attention to the problem.
“I’m proud to have delivered this vital $15 million increase in Impact Aid funding to provide a lifeline for federally impacted school districts that have struggled to adapt to the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis,” Ms. Gillibrand said in a news release issued Jan. 6. “This pandemic has only increased the learning gap, and this funding will help students who attend schools affected by federal activity have equal access to the same educational opportunities as other children. Continued funding for the Impact Aid Program will deliver necessary resources for school districts to address the unique challenges of the pandemic and ensure their success in the future.”
Schools still have an uphill battle as the pandemic continues and budget worries persist. But this increased federal funding will benefit districts requiring this help, ensuring they’ll be able to carry out their mission of educating our children.