A push to lessen the application burden of Impact Aid recipients is gaining traction in Congress.
Congressmen Joe Courtney (Conn.-02) and Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) introduced a bill in late August to allow districts to use their SY 2020-21 student count and property valuation data for their SY 2021-22 Impact Aid applications, which are due by Jan. 31, 2021. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.) introduced the Senate version H.R.8075 in July.
Typically, the student count and property valuation data are collected the fall before the application deadline for Title VII funding under the Every Student Succeeds Act, Pub. L. No. 114-95. The Impact Aid Coronavirus Relief Act would permit the use of FY 2021 student count and property valuation data for FY 2022 applications, giving relief to districts that continue to respond to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“The most unique COVID-19 challenge that federally impacted school districts face is the student count, and the challenge of conducting a safe and accurate count in the current environment,” says Hilary Goldmann, the executive director of the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, which represents more than 400 of the 1,100-plus Impact Aid districts.
“Most school districts conduct their student count in September or October,” she adds. “In many cases, it involves sending a paper form home with students for parents and guardians to complete and return to school, which will make the count very difficult in communities where all or a significant number of students are learning remotely.”
Important sections of the legislation
Impact Aid Section 7003 funds are based in part on the number of federally connected students—those who are military connected; live on Indian lands, in federal low-income housing, or other federally owned property; or have parents who work on federally owned property—enrolled in a district.
There are strict requirements as to how a district performs a student count that verifies whether students are federally connected, says Goldmann, adding that only a handful of districts nationwide are approved by the U.S. Education Department to collect data electronically.
“And that approval is a lengthy, complex process,” she says. “So districts cannot just pivot to an electronic count this fall.”
A district’s Impact Aid payment may drop if the district is not able to verify the federal connection of students. For districts that rely heavily on Impact Aid, she said, that could be devastating.
Impact Aid Section 7002 funds are based in part on the value of federally owned property in a district, as determined by local tax data, from the local tax assessor and other local officials to verify the ownership of federal land.
Goldmann says the application process for Section 7002 funds is time-consuming, and it can depend on access to specific historical documents. “If a district were unable to complete it for any reason, it could have a significant impact on their budget.”
How to use funds
While Impact Aid funds may be used for any legal purpose under state law—including staff salaries, instructional technology, student transportation, social-emotional supports, school construction, or IDEA-related activities for eligible military-connected children and children living on Indian lands—districts are likely using Impact Aid funds to address technology, personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies and other areas important for learning in the COVID-19 environment.
Impact Aid funds are a critical source of federal support for military and tribal families in eastern Connecticut, said Courtney in his press release announcement.
“Never has this program been more crucial, and the Impact Aid Coronavirus Relief Act will ensure that these districts are not short-changed because of a paperwork requirement,” stated Courtney when introducing the bill. “Taking one administrative requirement off their plate means more time spent preparing for an unprecedented back-to-school experience.”
Federally connected students represent one-quarter of the student body at Groton Public Schools in Mystic, Conn., according to Groton Superintendent Michael Graner.
“The Impact Aid program is especially important to ensure a quality education for every Groton student. [It is] helping us purchase the technology that is so essential in the current learning environment,” says Graner. “This bill would ensure that we can count on our Impact Aid funding, even during the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Johnny Jackson covers homeless and at-risk students and other Title I issues for LRP Publications, publisher of DA.