Here's how the proposed federal budget would fail military kids and their education
(Photo: 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs, Spc. Nicholas Holmes)

By Meg Flanagan

President Donald Trump unveiled his budget proposal to Congress last week. He has suggested that many departments and programs be dramatically cut. Among the programs on the chopping block is “impact aid,” which could have far-lasting implications for military kids and their educations.

What is impact aid?

Impact aid is a $66 million dollar program designed to offset property taxes lost due to federally owned lands being located in a city or town.

Land owned by the federal government is tax-exempt. Locations that have such land in their boundaries are unable to take property taxes from the land. Property taxes are one of the major ways that public education is funded. As a result, towns lose income from land that would otherwise be taxed.

This means that schools are funded at lower levels than in towns with similar land size and demographics; however, the schools still need to provide a free, quality education. Impact aid also helps schools districts that have an increased population of federally connected children.

What does this mean for military families?

Military children are direct beneficiaries of impact aid. First, military bases are federally owned land. That means that they are tax-exempt. Some of that land is highly desirable.

Think about Fort Belvoir. It’s located in Alexandria, VA, just outside of Washington, D.C. Very small townhouses with no land in this area routinely go for more than $500,000. Ft. Belvoir is thousands of acres. Think of all of the income that Fairfax County could be getting is they were able to collect property taxes on Ft. Belvoir.

Another great example is Camp Pendleton north of San Diego, CA. This gigantic base boasts an extensive coastline running between Oceanside and San Clemente. Moving inland, Pendleton has mountains extending almost to the local wine region. Homes in this area, especially along the coast, are just as expensive as in the DC area. Again, millions of dollars in potential property taxes are lost across multiple school districts.

Beyond just the property taxes, thousands of military children are enrolled in public schools located on and around both duty stations. Without the presence of military bases, these children would likely not be there either. Yes, other children would be enrolled. However, those children would also live on property that could be taxed, with those taxes funding the local schools.

The impact of military children on local schools is increased when you move away from high property value locations like Southern California and Northern Virginia to more rural or impoverished areas. When you consider places like Lawton, OK the loss of the property taxes can be very serious. It removes vital, potential monetary resources.

Impact on schools near military bases

Here’s the thing: Teachers in Lawton and Alexandria need to provide the same quality of education, regardless of how much they earn in property taxes and despite increased enrollment of military children living on military bases.

If the impact aid is removed from the federal budget, schools serving military children will be directly impacted. They could lose money that helps pay teacher salaries, buy basic supplies, and provide supplemental funding for extracurricular programs.

Military families are already bearing the brunt of the patchwork of educational standards and programs around the country. Not every school close to a base has the same reputation or offers the same opportunities. If the schools that are already struggling lose this funding, even more services could be cut.

Classrooms in many districts are already overcrowded. Without impact aid funds, staff could be reduced further. That would increase class sizes while also decreasing educational services, like special and gifted education.

Schools are headed into the last quarter of the school year. Traditionally, schools start to run out of supplies like paper and printer ink. Without money from the impact aid program, these supply issues could hit earlier in the year or have a deeper impact.

Beyond providing funding to cover lost property taxes, there are also dedicated funds to educate students with disabilities and construction grants. The Children with Disabilities Payments (Section 8003 (d)) specifically provides money to serve special education students. Construction Grants (Section 8007) help to ensure that existing schools are repaired and that districts can build new schools when needed.

Yes, these are “worst case” scenarios

However, when considering what areas of the proposed budget impact military family members, this is a big one.

Educating our children is a common theme right now in military social media groups. Parents are searching for the best schools close to their next duty station. They are asking about gifted programs, services for special education students, and the best athletic opportunities. All of these programs and services, among others, could be impacted by the removal or reduction of Impact Aid.

The potential removal of these funds should be something that military families need to consider in the bigger picture.