Impact Aid is vital to our local public schools

  • Published
  • By Gerry Cross
  • School liaison officer
As a retired Air Force member with three children who've completed the public education system, I've filled out my share of Impact Aid cards. In fact, I just filled one out on my remaining school-aged child three weeks ago. I never really knew the reason for filling out the cards, but I know the schools were always persistent in getting them back, sending notes and making phone calls reminding me of my delinquency. Like many military parents, I assumed the schools were getting additional funding solely because we were military members.

Recently, I was referred to as the "Impact Aid expert" because of my job position as Keesler's school liaison officer. I've spent many hours researching this subject, but I'm no expert, and frankly, I haven't come across anyone who is. This is a very complex federal government program. I still have quite a bit to learn before I can claim the "expert" title, but I'll share what I've learned so far.

The Impact Aid program was passed into law by Congress in 1950. It's designed to assist local school districts that have lost property tax revenue due to the presence of taxexempt federal property or that have experienced increased expenditures due to the enrollment of federally-connected children, including children living on Indian lands.

School taxes come from two sources: taxation on property of private individuals (such as homes, autos, boats and other personal property) and taxation of real or personal property used for business purposes. A large federal installation, while adding a great deal to the economic growth of a state, has a tremendous impact on a local community. It means that a great deal of property and activity is removed from the local tax rolls that support public education.

For example, the estimated appraised value of Keesler base houses ranges from $170,000 to $315,000.

If I use the millage rate, the tax that goes to schools per house, on the low end price of $170,000, which is about $650, and multiply that by the 1,028 privatized houses on base, the amount is $668,200. That amount is not going to Biloxi School District because the base houses are on federal land -- housing privatization doesn't affect Impact Aid. The intent of Impact Aid is to totally match the local tax effort for military parents living on a federal installation. According to federal government sources, the Biloxi School District received nearly $473,519 in 2011 for Impact Aid. For a student with military parents who don't live on the federal property, local students receive 20 percent of the "on-base" military child rate.

Impact Aid was last fully funded in 1970. Since then, it's taken drastic cuts and is currently funded at only 60 percent nationally as defined by law. In 2011, the Mississippi was appropriated $9.4 million dollars in Impact Aid, but received only $1.5 million.

In order for a school district to receive Impact Aid, it must have 400 federal students in its average daily attendance, or at least 3 percent of all children in the district ADA be federally connected.

Five Gulf Coast school districts meet this criteria -- Biloxi, Harrison County, Ocean Springs, Gulfport and Long Beach. School districts conduct a "first count" student survey each year to identify the number of federally-connected students. School districts submit the results to the U.S. Department of Education by Jan. 31. The Biloxi School District sent out Impact Aid cards Nov. 8 -- all other districts have different dates. Regardless of the date, it's vitally important to get the cards filled out and returned to the schools as soon as possible.

Payments to the school districts are always in arrears, usually two to three years behind, and come in multiple payments throughout the year. The payments go directly into school district accounts by electronic fund transfer. These funds go into the general fund of a school district and may be used in whatever manner the district chooses in accordance with local and state requirements.

Information for this commentary came from the base housing office, the Harrison County tax assessor's office and the U.S. Department of Education.