The Truth About Impact Aid & All the Lies You've Been Sold

The Marketing of Impact Aid

Every year Title VII of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) allocates billions of dollars to support military-connected students’ equal access to education.[1] The allocation is commonly referred to as Impact Aid. If you are a military-connected family with school-age children in public schools, you likely have been asked to complete an Impact Aid Form. On occasion, you may have asked, what is the purpose of this form? Your public school may have provided information similar to these districts:

Cumberland County Schools, North Carolina

"The federal Impact Aid Program survey is designed to assist school districts that

have lost revenue due to federal property exemption from local property taxes.” [2]

Killeen, ISD, Texas

Impact Aid is a federal formula grant program designed to reimburse local school districts for loss of property on their tax roll, or increased enrollments, as a result of federal activity. The funding received under this purpose is considered general aid to the recipient school districts. The districts use the funds in the same manner as local property tax revenue to support the overall operations of the school district” [3]

Hawaii State Department of Education “The Federal Impact Aid Program Survey is designed to assist local school districts

who have lost revenue due to Federal properties exemption from local property

taxes” [4]

San Diego Unified School District

Each year the district earns a significant amount of income which can be used for any general fund purpose such as instructional materials, salaries, transportation, technology, or capital needs, and we thank you for your continued effort and support. The Federal Survey brings in over $10 million each year to the district. This law allows for partial replacement funding for lost property tax revenue due to military installations and other federal property in or near our district.”[5]

The True Purpose of Impact Aid:

Most of the published material regarding Title VII of ESSA-Federal Impact Aid for military-connected students fails to mention the legal requirement to help military students meet the same challenging state academic standards.[6] District after school district seems to omit the important legal funding purpose of Federal Impact Aid. A lie of omission is still a lie.

Since its inception Impact Aid, Section 6, Public Law No. 81-874 has always included the legal language, "and to help such children meet the same challenging State academic standards" as the purpose of Federal Impact Aid.

This language matters in how the funding is supposed to be utilized and as a result, the marketing by the public education industry only seems to highlight one part of the law, framing military-connected students and their presence as a financial drain upon our local communities. In 2020, Virginia Beach Public Schools, Board Member Beverly Anderson went as far as to state, “Those houses are not taxed. We don’t get real estate taxes from those areas and that’s what the whole thing is all about.” [7] This statement is very far from a truthful representation of all the facts and an egregious affront to the decades’ several Presidents as well as Department of Defense leaders dedicated to ensuring every military-connected student had equal access to their public education in protection of their civil rights. I am going to help School Board Member Beverly Anderson out. What is Title VII of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) all about? Federal Impact Aid has always had the role of protecting the civil rights of military-connected students’ equal access to public education.

History of Impact Aid & Civil Rights Purpose:

The Impact Aid program had its beginnings in the early 1800s. Regulations were passed in 1821 to support the cost for schools to educate military-dependent children. [8] In 1940, Congress passed the Lanham Act to provide federal aid for public works necessitated by the defense industry. In 1941, an amendment specifically included the public-school education initiative. [9] Followed in 1942 by the Federal Works Agency, which compiled a list of school projects adding up to tens of millions that included highlighting the disparity in local funding distribution to black & Mexican American schools.[10]

The Impact Aid Program, signed into law by President Harry Truman in 1950, is the nation’s oldest K-12 federal education program created to address the educational needs of military-connected students. At the very heart, Public Law 874 purpose was to provide equal access to free and appropriate public education for every military-connected student.[11] Soon after WWII and the desegregation of the United States Military in 1948, the journey to ensure military-connected students had equal access to public education became an ongoing fundamental issue for the Department of Defense and multiple presidential administrations.

It is important to highlight the landscape of the time to conceptualize why Public Law 81-874 was necessary. Soon after WWII, the DOD faced an influx of military-connected families throughout the states and internationally with children who required access to public education. At the time, many of the areas did not have suitable education facilities or programs. Many states prohibited providing public education for military-connected students, and some areas could not provide these students with an appropriate public education that would enable them to meet the state standards.[12] The rationale for section 6 Public Law 81-874 presented to Congress by the Commissioner of Education:

The Foundation Rationale of Necessity for Impact Aid Section 6, Public Law No. 81-874

  • State law prohibited integrated education, or segregated education was deemed unsuitable.

  • Local Education Agency (LEA) was unable to provide suitable free public education. The property was held under exclusive federal jurisdiction by the US

  • State law prohibited tax revenues from being expended for free public education of federal children (Delaware).

Access to free and appropriate public education has always been identified as a primary purpose of Impact Aid. In the first annual report of the Commissioner of Education June 30, 1951, concerning the administration of Public Law 813 – 874:

  • In conformity with the provisions of Public Law 874 and the intent of Congress, it has been the expressed policy of the Commissioner to make every effort to provide for children residing on federal property free public education in schools operated and controlled by local educational agencies in accordance with state laws and standards.

  • CHILDREN FOR WHOM LOCAL AGENCIES ARE UNABLE To PROVIDE EDUCATION SEC. 6. In the case of children who reside on Federal property if no tax revenues of the State or any political subdivision thereof may be expended for the free public education of such children; or (2) if it is the judgment of the Commissioner, after he has consulted with the appropriate State educational agency, that no local educational agency is able to provide suitable free public education for such children, the Commissioner shall make such arrangements (other than arrangements with respect to the acquisition of land, the erection of facilities, interest, or debt service) as may be necessary to provide free public education for such children. To the maximum extent practicable, such education shall be comparable to free public education provided for children in comparable communities in the State.[13]

The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment provides that a state may not “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The denial of military-connected students’ equal access to free and appropriate public education is a constitutional civil rights issue. Public Law 81-874, which was later absorbed into the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and then the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), has always had the purpose of ensuring military-connected students have equal access to their free and appropriate public education.

For several years President Harry S. Truman endeavored to bring Public law 815-874 to fruition as a means to provide ongoing support for the needs of military-connected students. On November 2, 1951, President Truman signed a memorandum of disapproval of a bill attempting to change Public law 874 by requiring Segregation in certain schools on federal property.

"Congress has included one provision in this bill which I cannot approve. This provision would require a group of schools on Federal property which are now operating successfully on an integrated basis to be segregated. It would do so by requiring Federal schools on military bases and other Federal property to conform to the laws of the States in which such installations are located. This is a departure from the provisions of Public Laws 815 and 874, which required only that the education provided under these circumstances should be comparable to the available to other children in the State. The purpose of the proposed change is clearly to require that schools operated solely by the Federal Government on Federally-owned land, if located in any of seventeen States, shall be operated on a segregated basis "to the maximum extent practicable. This proposal, if enacted into law, would constitute a backward step in the efforts of the Federal Government to extend equal rights and opportunities to all our people. We have assumed a role of world leadership in seeking to unite people of great cultural and racial diversity for the purpose of resisting aggression, protecting their mutual security, and advancing their own economic and political development."[14]

In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower took action to ban federal aid from being utilized for segregated public schools operated by or on US bases. The Commissioner of Education under President Eisenhower, Earl J. McGrath, saw Public Law 874 purpose in the same light. [15]

On January 15, 1953, Commissioner McGrath informed Assistant Secretary of Defense Anne Rosenberg that if the Department of Defense outlawed segregated dependent schooling and local educational agencies were unable to comply, his office would have to make "other arrangements" for the children.[16]

In a March 19, 1953 press conference, President Eisenhower promised to investigate the military family school situation, adding,