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. 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.” 
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” 
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
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.”
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. 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.”  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.  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.  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.
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. 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. 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.
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."
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. 
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.
In a March 19, 1953 press conference, President Eisenhower promised to investigate the military family school situation, adding,
“I will say this—I repeat it, I have said it again and again: whenever Federal funds are expended for anything, I do not see how any American can justify—legally, or logically, or morally—a discrimination in the expenditure of those funds as among our citizens. All are taxed to provide these funds. If there is any benefit to be derived from them, I think they must all share, regardless of such inconsequential factors as race and religion.”
On October 3, 1961, President John F. Kennedy’s concern for military-connected students’ equal access to public education and the use of federal funds to deny such was made clear in a published statement upon signing the National Defense Education Act and Public Laws 81-874 reauthorizations.
“Individuals who profess opposition to Federal aid to education on grounds of states’ rights, racial or religious controversy, budgetary economy or academic freedom do not hesitate to demand this Federal aid to build schoolhouses and pay teachers' salaries in their own areas.” (1) the National Defense Education Act of 1958 and (2) the expired provisions of Public Laws 815 and 874 of the 81st Congress President Kennedy. I am not unmindful of the problems this program is designed to meet overcrowded and hazardous classrooms in communities whose financial resources are strained to educate these Federally connected children. But I believe that overcrowded and hazardous classrooms are undesirable anywhere, whether filled by the children of Federal employees or by the children of other Federal taxpayers, and whether the local resources are strained by the location of a Federal facility or by any other cause. A quality education is a necessity for all American children, not merely those who by good fortune live in a district covered by this program. It ill becomes those who insist that we cannot afford the expenditure of Federal funds to aid the public education of all children, to insist with equal fervor upon the passage of this unsound and uneconomical measure which aids the education of only some.”
Following the end of WWII, military families were continuously advocating for their students’ equal access to public education and went as far as to lead groundbreaking court cases. President Kennedy’s administration joined a military family’s case to launch a limited yet unprecedented legal action in United States v. County School Bd., Prince George County, Va., 221 F. Supp. 93 (E.D. Va. 1963). Military-connected students of color stationed and residing at Fort Lee lived on a desegregated installation without a public-school subjected to being bussed to segregated black only or white only local public schools. In the case, the United States asserted it seeks an injunction requiring the defendants to admit black children who are dependents of military and civilian personnel stationed or employed at Fort Lee, Virginia, to schools attended only by white pupils.
The United States based its claim upon two grounds; first, that pursuant to P.L. 815, Chapter 19 of Title 20 U.S.C. (20 U.S.C. § 631 et seq.), the Prince George County School Board gave the assurance that its school facilities will be available to the federally-connected children on the same terms in accordance with the laws of the State as they are available to local children. The plaintiff, the United States Department of Justice, and military families urged that this was a contractual obligation or a statutory obligation. The second ground was that the defendants had unlawfully burdened the United States in exercising its war powers under the Constitution.
The Court concluded that the arrangement by which the school board obtained money from the United States for assistance in the construction of schools constituted a contract. The United States agreed to make certain payments to the school board in exchange for certain assurances. The school board, in order to receive the funds, gave the assurances required by the statute. The United States made the payments, and the contract was executed on its part. The Court also concluded that the School Board had breached the assurance, to the effect that the Prince George County school facilities will be available to the children for whose education contributions are provided in Title 2 of Public Law 815, on the same terms in accordance with the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia as they are available to other children in the County, which at the time had desegregation school laws in place.
This case clearly highlights school districts enter into a contract with the United States when accepting Impact Aid funds to provide education in terms of the provisions. Again, the terms which state to help such children meet the same challenging state academic standards.
The U.S. Justice Department launched a legal campaign from the early 1950s through to the 1960s to eliminate off-base school segregation for military children in select districts in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, including Barksdale Air Force Base and Bossier Parish, Louisiana. In each of these cases, the issue of Impact Aid, which included the 1958 aid for military-connected students with disabilities, was at the legal basis of the contract each public-school district entered to provide equal access to free and appropriate public education. Impact Aid was a vital tool for federal pressure toward public education desegregation and accountability measures for equal access to public education for every American student by ensuring our military-connected students’ civil rights were protected.
From 1950 and well into the 1970s, Impact Aid became a critical financial resource for many school districts. In the southern school systems, it accounted for 35% of school budgets and 41% of all construction projects. In 1964, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was enacted, creating a huge increase in federal education spending and regulations. Until the Elementary and Secondary Education Act passed in 1965, impact laws were the only form of federal general aid for K–12 education. Public law 81-874 became part of the ESEA as Title 1, and it is now part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Title VII. The current 2021 ESSA annual budget is $860 billion.
The purpose of ESSA funding is to uphold critical protections for America’s disadvantaged and high-need students, to ensure equity in education. Military students are categorized as high-need-at-risk students due to their highly mobile lifestyle and other lifestyle stressors. The ESSA’s purpose is “ to provide all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and to close educational achievement gaps." 
Impact Aid has a far greater purpose than getting refunded for real estate taxes to supplant local school district budget shortfalls. Impact Aid's greatest purpose is to ensure military-connected students have equal access to their public education and have support to meet the state education standards.
Title VII Impact Aid Local Property Tax Funding
Upon reading the full text outlining the purpose of Title VII, it clearly includes the federal responsibility to assist with educational services for districts that experience a substantial and continuing financial burden due to the acquisition of real property by the United States. It also includes the purpose to educate children who reside on federal property and whose parents are employed on federal property, children of parents who are in the military services, children who live in low-rent housing, educate heavy concentrations of children whose parents are civilian employees of the federal government and do not reside on federal property. It is quite clear in the law itself the whole thing is definitely not about getting refunded for real estate taxes. The strategic omission of the entire purpose of the law is quite egregious and has had a detrimental impact upon military students’ equal access to their public education.
Federal Impact Aid is disbursed to local school districts in four different categories:
Basic Support Payments
Children with Disabilities,
Payments for Federal Property
Federal property is one of the four categories for impact aid funding distribution and is the only category addressing military installations' property tax value. If all the money dispersed to local education agencies was for the sole reason of property tax loss, then why would the law include the other reasons for the disbursements and the other categories of disbursements inclusive of a supplement not supplant for all funds for students with disabilities? Because all of the funding from Title VII Impact Aid is not for property tax losses.
The largest funding distribution category of Impact Aid is the Basic Support Payments. The sole purpose of the Basic Support Payment category of funding is to support the education of military-connected students and ensure they have equal access to free appropriate public education.
Nationally $1,340,242 billion of Basic Support Payment Impact Aid funding was disbursed in 2020 on behalf of federally connected children, plus $48.3 million more specifically directed for children with disabilities. In addition to these federal funds, the DOD also has “Impact Aid for Military Dependent Students with Severe Disabilities” that provides 100 percent reimbursement for all educational costs associated with these specific students. This targeted funding is to ensure even the most vulnerable students have equal access to their education and is protected by the legal requirement that school districts may not supplant the funding. All funding for military-connected students with disabilities cannot be supplanted and must be utilized to supplement the students' education. The Basic Student Allowance’s funding is to meet the educational needs of military students for them to reach the state educational standards.
Impact Aid has a far greater purpose than getting refunded for real estate taxes to supplant local school district budget shortfalls.
Do Public Schools Lose Funding by Educating Military-Connected Students?
Military families and installations are not a tax loss burden upon any school district or community at large. On the contrary military installations, their accompanying workforce, and families provide over $408 billion for local economies in America.
According to the Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustments, Florida's defense activities accounted for $95 billion in spending to the State of Florida’s economy. Florida school districts received $6,430,000 in basic student allowance Impact Aid and for military-connected students with disabilities $1,620,000. Home to the seventh-largest school district and to MacDill Airforce Base the Tampa Bay region defense spending contributes $8.5 billion in direct spending to the Hillsborough County tax base. These expenditures generated 302,500 direct and indirect jobs and accounted for $19.3 billion of the Tampa Bay region’s gross regional product.
North Carolina Public Schools received $13.38 million in Impact Aid basic student allowance and $1.5 million for military-connected students with disabilities. Home to Fort Bragg, Cumberland County Public Schools received $3,693,348.05 in Title VII basic student allowance and $530,910.36 for military-connected students with disabilities. The 2nd largest sector of North Carolina’s economy is the Department of Defense, accounting for $66 billion in spending.
Home to Fort Hood, Killeen ISD received $58,076,846 million in Title VII basic student allowance and $978,938.35 for military-connected students with disabilities. Texas received $126.3 billion in defense spending.
As a state with the greatest number of active-duty members, California benefited from $66.2 billion in defense spending. California schools received $61,193,792.69 in Title VII basic student allowance and $4,122,251.20 for military-connected students with disabilities. The San Diego Unified Public Schools received $7,544,814.90 in basic student allowance and $1.2 million for military students with disabilities. Defense activities contributed $28.1 billion to San Diego’s region gross regional product.
Virginia public schools received $32.88 million in Title VII basic student allowance and $4.14 million for military students with disabilities. Virginia Beach Public School District received $7,728,242.18 in Title VII basic student allowance and $1,039,665.94 for military students with disabilities. Defense-related activities and spending in the Hampton Roads area accounted for 41.2% of the region’s economy, generating approximately $35.2 billion in gross regional product. In total, defense spending contributed $60.3 billion to the State of Virginia’s economy.
Let us not forget when our states’ economies suffer a crisis, the constant military presence provides support to the local economic stability as in the 2020 DOD spending, which has stabilized Hawaii’s economy during the impact of tourist decline. The Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act included $3,775,000,000 billion in defense funding for Hawaii.
Public education systems surrounding military installations are not losing funding by providing free and appropriate public education for our military-connected students. Title VII Impact Aid funding for military-connected students should reach those students and should not be supplanted for local school district budget shortfalls. This funding needs to be utilized for the legally identified purpose to ensure military-connected students have equal access to their public education and have support to meet state educational standards.
What Are Public School Districts Utilizing Federal Impact Aid Funding For?
Most public-school districts place Title VII Impact Aid funding into the district General Fund portion of the district budget, otherwise known as the black hole of accountability in public education budgets. This is what we at Military Kids-Special Education Alliance (MKSEA) have been able to gather through thorough research of school budgets and national reports. According to the March 2011 US Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, “Education of Military Dependent Students: Better Information Needed to Assess Student Performance”:
“Little is known about the specific use and effectiveness of DOD Impact Aid Supplemental funds because most school districts place the aid into their general fund to support salaries, maintenance, and operation of schools. School districts that received Impact Aid Supplemental funds in any year from 2001 through 2009, of the 87 school districts that reported receiving funds for the 2009-2010 school year, 85 percent put at least some of their award in their general fund.” This practice has been a point of contention since the inception of Impact Aid. In the 1975 GAO report, there was documented concern about how Impact Aid was being supplanted and not utilized as legislated.
On February 11, 2020, military family advocates testified before the Armed Services Committee Subcommittee about the major challenges faced by the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). This DOD program works with military and civilian agencies to provide comprehensive and coordinated community support worldwide to US military families with special needs. A continuous theme throughout testimony was, “school districts wait us out.” School district officials deny equal access to education as they wait for the normal relocation cycle, never providing constitutionally mandated education, and keeping the additional funds. There is no accountability. They exploit military children for federal funding.
School officials move directed funding to general funds to supplant other funded programs and as a miscellaneous cash flow. The funds appropriated for military family students never reach them. This exploits military-connected children for funding without supporting access to their education. Districts get their highest income by exploiting our most vulnerable children, military-connected students with special needs. Active-duty families do not have a lot of time to spare. Add the responsibilities of caring for a child with special needs; their parents don’t have time to navigate this morass of bureaucracy because they are on the frontlines serving this country and protecting our freedoms.
In a recent report from a Florida military student identifier, 30.9 % of military-connected students were significantly below standard in the subject area of English language as well as other core subjects. This begs the question how are public school districts utilizing the basic student allowance portion of the impact aid? Have public schools utilized the funding to assist these students to meet the state standards as is required by law? At this time the 7th largest school district in the Country Hillsborough County Florida, home to Macdill AFB does not have 1 program operated by the district ti support military student’s unique education needs. Not one. Even when we see school districts report a program being implemented many times it is not in ratio to the needs of the military student body population. We can and should do better for our children.
Why is this an important issue?
Currently, in the longest war in American history with unrelenting operational tempos. Our warfighters are now sending their children to fight in the same war they fought in. We as a nation must begin to seriously look at our Homefront responsibilities to the mission. Public schools’ Homefront mission is to ensure each military-connected student has equal access to their education and help such children meet the same challenging state academic standards. When public school districts ignore this responsibility, willfully or passively our children lose education and endure greater hardships than necessary, hardships that impact families like mine. When my child became suddenly medically fragile, I had to make countless phone calls and emails for a schoolbook. A schoolbook that was finally provided weeks after my child’s course started. I had to meet a district representative at a gas station parking lot to collect the schoolbook. As I stood in the middle of the parking lot holding the book my child needed to participate in her education, my thoughts lingered on the additional Impact Aid funding my child brought to the public school district that took weeks to provide a schoolbook. I thought something is seriously wrong here, and I began my journey to uncover the truth about Impact Aid. The truth about Title VII Impact Aid is that it’s not about getting refunded for real estate taxes but ensuring military-connected students have equal access to their public education and the protection of their civil rights.
Call to action
1. A bi-partisan Congressional supported amendment to ESSA Title VII’s purpose to include the funds for basic student allowance are to supplement and not to be supplanted with annual reporting requirements similar to what Title 1 funds require.
2. Department of Defense leadership support for accountability in military students equal access to public education. The accountability measure should include a request for annual reports of the federally mandated education data for military-connected students. The reports should be inclusive of the information on how the Title VII basic student allowance and students with disabilities funds were utilized to help such children meet the same challenging state academic standards as is required by the law.
3. Department of Justice follow in former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy’s footsteps and begin filing cases to protect military students' equal access to education ensuring the Title VII contract is upheld.
4. Ultimately, change begins with accountability, and school districts that are tasked with educating our military-connected students need to apologize for not using these funds in the manner the law intended. I would like to see them take ownership of their role in leaving military children behind. It is only through this acknowledgment that we can begin to correct these systemic issues of unequal access to public education for military children.