CHICAGO -- Congress is considering two measures that would increase financial aid to cash-strapped school districts that are required to educate the children of military personnel.
Meanwhile, Gov. Jim Edgar of Illinois is reviewing a bill, passed by the state legislature last month, that would allow school districts in that state to redraw their boundaries to exclude military bases.
If signed into law, the measure would be the first attempt by a state to exclude children of military personnel from public schools, according to the U.S. Defense Department.
A Senate amendment to the federal armed services authorization bill would set up a special Defense Department fund to assist school districts with military bases within their boundaries.
Currently, impact aid funds are allocated from the federal education budget. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Alan Dixon, D-ill., was passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee last Friday.
A House amendment attached to an appropriations bill would reallocate $10 million in the federal education budget to give short-term help to certain school districts. The amendment, sponsored by Rep. John Porter, R-Ill., passed the House Tuesday.
Both amendments would provide temporary relief and are not related to the Illinois legislation, according to aides to Sen. Dixon and Rep. Porter.
Both the state and federal measures address complaints voiced by school districts across the country that are burdened with educating military dependents, while being unable to tax the federal installations.
Though the Senate measure authorizes the creation of a fund to help those school districts, it does not set aside any money for relief. Charles Smith, national security adviser to Sen. Dixon, said the Armed Services Committee has identified $58 million in Defense Department funds that would be targeted for cash-strapped school districts in 25 to 30 states, including Illinois.
The Porter amendment would re-allocate $10 million for school districts in which at least 30% of the students are from military bases, and in which school taxes and per-pupil expenses exceed the state average. The plan would assist at least six school districts, with Illinois, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and California in line to receive moneys, an aide to Rep. Porter said.
But the sponsor of the Illinois bill said passage of the congressional measures would not affect her legislation.
"Nothing would eliminate the need for my bill," said Rep. Grace Mary Stern, D-Highland Park. "My bill is backstop legislation for schools districts that have no justice from the federal government."