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Impact Aid clarity sought

One month into the school year, Oak Harbor School District officials still don’t know how much money they will receive in Impact Aid funding from the federal government.

That was one of the problems with Impact Aid school district officials hoped to find solutions for on a recent trip to the other Washington. They also pleaded to keep funding at its present level, although that may not happen.

Superintendent Rick Schulte and board members Kathy Jones and Vicki Harring, and Lynne Carpenter, representing the Oak Harbor Education Assocation, spent the better part of a week in Washington, D.C. attending the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools conference. While there, they met with state representatives to discuss issues concerning Impact Aid.

Impact Aid money is given to school districts that are affected by military bases, Indian reservations and federally funded low income housing.

Impact Aid represents a significant chunk of the school district’s revenue. Of the Oak Harbor School District’s $43 million budget in 2005-2006, $5.45 million is expected to come from Impact Aid.

School districts are required to approve a budget by the end of August each year, but the amount of Impact Aid is only an estimate because the federal government hasn’t currently approved the bill that contains Impact Aid funding.

Schulte said the situation creates uncertainty for the school district because money is budgeted before it’s actually received.

“We’ve already committed that money,” Schulte said. “We don’t have any way to make that up.”

Rep. Rick Larsen introduced legislation earlier in the year to improve the way schools receive Impact Aid.

“Impact Aid funding is never guaranteed, rarely paid in full and is full of bureaucracy,” Larsen said in a written statement. “This legislation will guarantee prompt and full payment to schools without the needless red tape.”

His bill currently has 35 cosponsors and is currently in the Subcommittee on Education Reform of the Education and Workforce Committee.

The House passed its version of the appropriations bill but the Senate hasn’t yet. The House, Senate and President’s proposed budget all freeze Impact Aid at its current level.

Schulte said freezing Impact Aid would result in funneling money away from Oak Harbor to districts that meet more requirements.

He said Impact Aid would have to increase by $40 million for the school district to maintain its current funding. Schools in Washington state receive $56 million a year in Impact Aid. Approximately $1.2 billion in Impact Aid is doled out to schools nationwide.

Schulte is concerned that Impact Aid could be reduced.

He said if an omnibus bill, which combines all appropriations bills into one, is passed, than there would be an across-the-board cut.

He added that money could be diverted to other high priority items such as the war in Iraq, Homeland Security and cleanup efforts from the recent hurricanes.

If that happens, Oak Harbor school officials will be making some serious budget revisions.

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