Sequestration Already Decimating Military School Districts

Posted by Charlotte Webster

school childrenBy long tradition, and for good or for ill, public K-12 education has historically been funded via property taxes. But that solution doesn’t work well for districts with a lot of active-duty military families. Federal land, including base housing, generates no tax revenue for local districts. And military families aren’t picking up the slack with sales taxes, either. To the extent military families do their shopping at commissaries and post exchanges, they don’t generate sales taxes either to the state or to the counties in which they reside.

To compensate, Congress plusses up budgets of school districts that have high concentrations of military students – to the tune of $1 billion per year, via a federal grant program called IMPACT AID.

But the so-called “sequestration” provisions of the Budget Control Act, if they become effective, will lop off 9 percent of that figure effective later in the fiscal year – unless Congress reaches a last minute deal.

That means sequestration will zap military school districts of nearly $100 million.

The effects are already making themselves known: School’s already started, and affected districts have had to make budgeting decisions assuming that their funding will be lower this year.

For some districts, IMPACT is negligible. But other districts may rely on the federal government for the majority of their budgets. This is particularly true for districts that lie entirely on military bases.

School officials have already had to eliminate teacher positions, cancel entire programs, and increase class sizes, according to the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C:

Walker said he had been forced to eliminate an elementary reading specialist; a librarian; a middle school reading specialist; high school teachers in math, science, and English; and the school’s baseball, cross country, and swimming programs. Custodians, secretaries, and other administrative personnel were also eliminated. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the entire Randolph Field School District, kindergarten through 12th grade, serves fewer than 1,500 students, so these are big cuts.

Similar problems are also affecting school districts on Indian reservations, as well – these schools are likewise heavily dependent on federal funding.

The funding situation for many of these school districts was already dire: A July 2011 DoD report listed 15 military installation schools as “condition red,” meaning they were in desperate need of significant repair or renovation of their physical plants. The report listed another 48 schools as “yellow,” also indicating a need for significant maintenance, repair or renovation.

Additionally, the Pentagon reported 28 schools as being significantly over capacity, by 16 percent or more. The Pentagon reports that it has a maintenance budget shortfall of $1 billion – even before sequestration, according to reporting by the Center for Public Integrity.

 

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