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Professional Opinion

Federal Impact Aid strengthens education for military students

A popular program to assist children of service personnel may be endangered
Jerrod Wheeler is superintendent of Knob Noster Public Schools in Missouri.
Jerrod Wheeler is superintendent of Knob Noster Public Schools in Missouri.

Nestled in America’s Heartland is a public school where two of our nation’s most defining mottos, “The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave” and “The Land of Opportunity” intersect daily for military-connected students.

At Knob Noster Public Schools in Missouri, we keep these thoughts in mind every day as we educate the 1,500 children—1,000 of whose parents serve at Whiteman Air Force Base.

Every professional on our campus takes seriously our role in educating children of our armed forces and strives to meet both the academic and social-emotional needs of our military-connected students.    

Endangered program

Public school leaders work hard to support military-connected children and their families, striving to mitigate the challenges they face due to deployments and mobility. We make every effort to ensure credits transfer across state boundaries and that students graduate regardless of how many schools they have attended.

We also work with parents, school liaison officers, and garrison commanders to ensure our military students receive a quality education. But some in our nation’s capital would like to rob critical funding—Impact Aid—from public schools to pay for private school voucher schemes.

Many public school districts across the country—including Knob Noster—have federally owned land within their boundaries. Federal property is tax-exempt, which deprives public school districts of revenue, so a federal program called Impact Aid was established as a tax replacement to help cover the costs of educating children.

Impact Aid provides financial assistance to more than 1,200 school districts with concentrations of children residing on military installations, Native American lands, low-rent housing facilities or other federal properties.

Lifeline to performance

Some of the Knob Noster programming made possible by Impact Aid include:  

  • Panthers R.O.C.K (Recognizing Our Character Kids). Over 400 students are recognized annually for demonstrating quality character, citizenship and patriotism.
  • Aim High Panthers. An AP program offering courses in STEM. Knob Noster students increased AP qualifying scores 600 percent from 2015 to 2017.  
  • Student 2 Student Mentoring. Each year, Knob Noster students welcome more than 250 military-transitioning students and help them quickly integrate into their new school setting.  
  • Stealth Panther Robotics. The team qualified for state and world championships in FIRST Robotics, earning rookie team-of-the-year honors.
  • Academic excellence. In 2016 and 2017, Knob Noster students helped the district earn its highest-ever score on the Missouri state annual performance report. Ours was the highest-performing district in central Missouri.  

Impact Aid is the lifeline to performance at Knob Noster—not just because it provides opportunities, but also because it is a strategically planned program that works.

Easing the tax burden

In Knob Noster, 2 out of 3 students are military-connected with many military families maintaining residence in other states. This makes it almost impossible for the district to raise money needed for school construction. Thankfully, our Impact Aid appropriation helps ease this tax burden.

Since 1950, Impact Aid has worked well to meet our nation’s needs, despite being underfunded. Impact Aid is flexible, locally controlled and has bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.

Proposals to divert that aid from schools that educate military-connected students are short-sighted, and will only reduce opportunities for quality education. If Congress wants to better support military-connected students, it should invest more—not less—in the Impact Aid program.

Jerrod Wheeler is superintendent of Knob Noster Public Schools in Missouri.