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Impact Aid funding cuts

SAN JUAN ISLAND, Wash. - Two congressmen have introduced a bill to preserve education funding for school districts near reservations and military bases.

Reps. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., and Paul Kirk, R-Ill., introduced House Resolution 1716, the Government Reservation Accelerated Development for Education Act, or GRADE-A.

H.R. 1716 would preserve about $150 million President Bush proposes cutting from Impact Aid. More than 1,300 school districts in the U.S. receive Impact Aid. Sixty school districts in Washington state receive the funding.

Public schools are required by law to accept all children from military families and tribal reservations. Families in federal housing or on reservations, however, do not pay local property taxes, a traditional revenue source for school districts. Impact Aid was designed to make up the difference.

However, the Bush administration says that military families living off base pay property taxes that support local schools.

"The cut is not likely to affect tribal communities as much as it would Navy families because the cut specifically targets military families living off base," said Charla Neuman, a Larsen aide.

"However, GRADE-A is still important to tribal communities because school districts with a large number of students from reservations still need assurance that they will receive the full funding they're supposed to receive. That hasn't happened in the past.

"I know, for instance, that the Nooksacks have benefited from Impact Aid and full funding would help them even more."

Toll to schools with military family children

Still, opponents of the cuts say the funding reduction would put a financial burden on schools that educate a significant number of federally connected children.

Oak Harbor, home of the Whidbey Island Naval Station, would lose about $1.7 million if the reduction is enacted, according to Larsen's office. At the nearby Central Kitsap School District, which has 13,300 students - 50 percent from military families - Impact Aid comprises $10 million of the district's $96 million budget, The Seattle Times reported.

Districts use the money for teachers' salaries, textbooks and regular maintenance.

Former teacher Mike Honda, now a Democratic congressman from San Jose, Calif., said there's a correlation between education spending and a child's success.

"In the classroom, many of my students exceeded their parent's expectations and their own expectations once they learned that they had the confidence and respect of their teacher and their peers," he said on his Web site.

"If families need school breakfast or lunch assistance, access to basic health care, or school counseling then schools need to provide such programs and services. The classroom should be a place of equality regardless of one's financial status. Every student should have the opportunity to better his or her life through education."

Of H.R. 1716, he said, "This will provide better education for children living in military housing and on Indian reservations," he said.

Prompt, guaranteed funding

Larsen and Kirk also introduced H.R. 932, which would ensure the efficient delivery of Impact Aid by creating an Impact Aid Trust Fund to guarantee that local school districts receive the funding in a timely manner, Larsen said.

"The problem is that this funding is never guaranteed, often not paid in full and rarely paid in a timely manner," Larsen said.

"Each year Impact Aid school districts are forced to do creative guess work when they write their budgets. Teachers, students and their families are the ones who suffer as a result. That is not fair."

To follow the progress of H.R. 1716 and H.R. 932, visit http://thomas.loc.gov/ and type H.R. 1716 or H.R. 932 in "Search Bill Text."

Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash. Contact him at irishmex2000@sanjuanjournal.com, or (360) 378-6289.

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