School officials are once again asking Utah's congressmen to help rescue the federal impact aid program from proposed budget cuts.
School districts are worried because the Bush administration, like its four predecessors, has recommended Congress not fund part of the program, which compensates school districts for educating children whose parents live or work on untaxed federal property.There are 23 districts in Utah that receive such "in-lieu-of-taxes" payments. The top four - San Juan, Davis, Weber and Tooele - rely heavily on the funding because of the impact of military installations, an Indian reservation and other federal activities.
The program, created by Public Law 874 in 1950, may be familiar to parents who yearly answer an employment and residency questionnaire carried home from school by their children. The questionnaire serves as the basis for determining how much aid school districts receive.
Funding for "B" students whose parents either live or work on federal property has been targeted for elimination by the administration. Bush budget proposals for "A" students, those whose parents both live and work on federal property, would keep that part of the program intact, said John Forkenbrock of the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools in Washington.
"It is like cherry blossoms in Washington. The budget comes out and it has not got the "B" students in it," said Davis School Superintendent Richard Kendell.
"Consistently over the last few years we have got the "B" students put back in the appropriation. Basically it has been Congress that has done it, and it has been Congress responding to their home states."
Kendell said affected school districts are again asking Utah's congressional delegation to push "B" category funding, which is still recovering from a severe cut in 1981.
Last year Congress voted to spend $708 million in fiscal year 1989 on the program. That was 96 percent of the $735 million limit authorized for the program. The limit for 1990 is $785 million.
Congress also voted to make a 80-20 split between the "A" and "B" funding. Department of Education officials are trying to get sponsors for legislation that would dismantle that formula, Forkenbrock said.
Figures for 1987, the most current available, show Utah schools received approximately $8.5 million in school funding through the program. Almost half came from "B" student funding, according to the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools.
Davis District receives about 2 percent of its annual budget from the impact aid program. About 23 percent of its pupils are "federally connected," most because their parents are stationed or work at Hill Air Force Base. In 1987, 65 percent of its $2.2 million allotment came from "B" funding.
Tooele School District got 57 percent of its 1987 impact aid from "B" students whose parents are employed at the Tooele Army Depot and Dugway Proving Ground.
The district's total federal funding amounts to only about 4 percent of the total operating budget - that in a district where 49 percent of the students fall into the "A" and "B" categories.
"We get 15 cents on the dollar of what we should get from the federal government. Between the two of them (Dugway and Tooele Army Depot) they employ 60 percent of the work force in the county," said Michael Jacobsen, Tooele District superintendent.
Weber District got 98 percent of its 1987 $1.2 million allocation as a result of "B" students whose parents are employed at federal operations such as Hill Air Force Base, Defense Depot Ogden and the Internal Revenue Service.
Forkenbrock doubts whether Bush will be successful in changing or cutting the category.
Forkenbrock said the "B" category It "took the big cut when Reagan was trying to cut everything and the B's got nailed bad, but they have made a comeback as that period wore off. Whether or not the Bush folks have the same kind of ability that Reagan did is questionable," Forkenbrock said.
Jacobsen agrees with Forkenbrock's view because of the strong support impact aid has received from Congress, including Utah's congressmen.
"I am virtually positive it won't go through. In Congress we have enough representatives that are heavily impacted by the government that they always put it back into the budget," he said.
However, he said he won't taking any chances and will continue lobbying for support, including yearly trips to Washington.
At the bottom of arguments for cutting the "B" funding given by every administration since Nixon is that the economic benefit of a place like Hill Air Force Base offsets lost property taxes. Kendell said the argument doesn't hold water, especially in Western states where the federal government owns a large percentage of the land.
"We are only able to tax four-sevenths of the real property in this (Davis) county," Kendell said, adding that Hill Air Force Base's tax valuation would be near $4 million if taxes could be assessed. "We're just not realizing the taxes we need."
Jacobsen said the argument that the "B" category should be eliminated because of offsetting revenues does not apply in Tooele County. He points out that in comparison to areas around some military installations, the nature of activities in Tooele County - testing and storing hazardous weapons - do not generate spin-off business.
In addition, military personnel who shop at on-base post exchanges do not have to pay Utah sales tax, and some avoid paying state income taxes by establishing permanent residency in states that do not have an income taxes. Both of those taxes are sources for school funding in the state.
Utah's top receiver of impact aid, San Juan School District, is not likely to be affected severely by any cut in "B" pupil funding because most of the aid it receives is a result of "A" pupils living on the Navajo Indian Reservation. At the same time, Superintendent Hal Jensen said that Congress should spend more on impact aid programs.
About 20 percent of the district's budget comes from impact aid funding.
However, he said the impact aid doesn't effectively offset the unusually high cost of educating students in the southern part of the district that is inside reservation boundaries.
1987 payments to districts
in federal impact aid:
San Juan $2,619,822
North Sanpete $5,906
South Sanpete $4,020
Source: National Association of Federally Impacted Schools