CHICAGO - Gov. Jim Edgar of Illinois has signed into law a measure allowing school districts to exclude military bases from their boundaries.
The measure marks the first time a state has made it legal to exclude children of military personnel from public schools in the districts where bases are located, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
The law will give school districts adjacent to military bases "a stronger voice" in lobbying for more federal assistance, the governor said last month in a press release after signing the bill.
School districts still have the option to keep or exclude military bases. The law requires a school board, however, to vote if it wants to disconnect the military base from the district. It also requires affected school districts to continue to provide schooling for the students until the federal government provides more money or another way to teach them.
The Defense Department declined to comment on the law Friday, pending a complete review by department officials, according to press officer Lieutenant Colonel Doug Hart.
"This is a unique situation," Hart said. "At this point, we are looking over the law."
School districts nationwide say they are burdened with educating the children while being unable to tax the federal installations.
The National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, a lobbying group that represents school districts with a high percentage of military personnel children, has said the law could lead to similar legislation in other states.
John Forkenbrock, executive director of the association, has said that about two dozen school districts in the country face severe financial pressures associated with educating the children of military personnel.
But he also has said that those districts would probably wait to see what the courts would do with the law before pursuing a similar one in their own states.
State Rep. Grace Mary Stern, D-Highland Park, sponsored the bill in the Illinois General Assembly to ease the financial burden on her constituents, whose property taxes support Highwood-Highland Park School District 111. About 420 of the district's 1,300 students live at the nearby Fort Sheridan U.S. Army base.
Griff Powell, superintendent of School District 111, said he was pleased with the measure, adding that he expected the school board to vote to disconnect Fort Sheridan from its boundaries sometime next year. The school district will then send the federal government tuition bills for the military dependents. Federal law requires the U.S. government to pay tuition for military dependents not included in a school district.
If the federal government does not pay the bills, Powell said he expected the school district to file a lawsuit seeking the funds. He added that the consolidation of School District 111 with two other school districts next year would provide ample funds to finance the suit if it is filed.
Meanwhile, Congress recently considered two measures that would provide immediate assistance to cash-strapped school districts educating military dependents.
One would provide relief for School District 111 and North Chicago School District 187, which educates the dependents of the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. The bill is expected to be signed into law by President George Bush this week, according to Charles Smith, spokesman for Sen. Alan Dixon, D-111. The measure would provide $120,000 for District 111 and $500,000 for District 187 next year.
Another measure that would have reallocated $10 million from the federal education budget for school districts in several states, including Illinois, failed to pass.