One set of program details conspicuously absent from the Obama Administration’s proposed 2011 budget is for Impact Aid, the federal Department of Education’s funding mechanism to public schools serving children from military families. The budget request sent to Congress earlier this month contained a line item for Impact Aid, but no dollar amount was specified. Instead, the request simply noted that program funding would be sought in later legislation.
Impact Aid dollars go straight from Washington to school districts, with few restrictions on their use. The program, enacted in 1950 to compensate communities for the lack of local tax revenue generated by large federal installations, does not include Department of Defense schools.
Reforming Impact Aid represents an important opportunity to help the 930,000 school-aged children of active-duty military personnel. Of these, 75 percent are age 11 or younger. Senior military leaders have identified school quality, and the frequent shortage of high-quality public schools near many military bases, as a major factor in many families’ reenlistment decisions. High mobility rates place their children at an educational disadvantage.
This is especially true for military families with children with disabilities. The process-heavy structure of federal special education laws and regulations, on top of differing state regulations and procedures, makes it especially difficult for military families to ensure that their children receive a high-quality education. Many facilities, particularly Marine Corps and Army bases, offer such families some resources, and community support groups and online listservs provide additional help. But the institutional challenges of navigating special education procedures for families frequently on the move make the need for more, quality choices especially important.
The Congressional Military Family Caucus, co-chaired by Representatives Sanford Bishop and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, discussed these areas in a briefing last month, and may press forward with reform efforts in the coming weeks.
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