Originally created 03/07/03

Children's districts could get funds cut



Local school systems could see a cut in the amount of funding they receive from the federal government for military children.

President Bush wants to eliminate the funding that school systems receive for children whose parents work on a military installation and to increase the funding for children whose parents also live at a base.

"We feel that the funding for these students should be eliminated based on the fact that their parents pay private property taxes that support local school systems," said Jim Bradshaw, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education.

The Impact Aid Program provides financial assistance to school districts that have additional expenses because of federal employees' children, including those living on Indian lands.

Fort Gordon officials estimated that 600 pupils attend Freedom Park Elementary School on the Army post. James Hudgins, the fort spokesman, said he wasn't sure how many pupils live off post.

Richmond County school officials said they are scheduled to receive $9.6 million a year in Impact Aid funds; however, because the program is based on need, the school system receives roughly $1 million annually.

"As far as a proposed cut, it would not affect any one program," said Mechelle Jordan, the public information director for Richmond County schools. "The money we receive is not earmarked for anything specifically and is used at our discretion."

Columbia County school officials said they receive roughly $130,000 each year, which is only a small portion of their $118 million budget.

Gen. Robert Gray, a former base commander at Fort Gordon, said the cuts could affect both school systems.

"It's bad policy," he said. "We have more people with families living off post because we have a finite set of quarters on post."

Federal officials said the average per-child payment for children who live on base would increase 3.5 percent. In addition, the government proposes a 9 percent increase in Title I funds, for a total of $12.4 billion. Richmond County received roughly $10 million this year in Title I funds.

The Title I program was designed to reduce the performance gap between low- and middle-income children and to reduce the funding gap between low- and middle-income school districts.

Not all education advocates are easily distracted by the government's increase in Title I funds, while many systems are losing millions of dollars in Impact Aid funds.

"Education dollars are already stretched to the limit," said Eileen Faucette, the communications chairwoman of the Richmond County Council of PTAs. "This loss would be hard enough in a regular year, but coming when your state and federal education funds are decreasing makes it very alarming."

Reach Ashlee Griggs at (706) 823-3552, or ashlee.griggs@augustachronicle.com.