The National Indian Impacted Schools Association held its annual conference in October 2021. The organization advocates on behalf of nearly 600 Indian land school districts serving over a million students across the nation. Photo: National Association of Federally Impacted Schools
Congress set to help schools with Impact Aid funding amid COVID-19
Monday, January 17, 2022
Indianz.Com

A bipartisan bill that will help school districts with Indian Country students preserve their Impact Aid funding is set to clear the 117th Congress this week.

S.2959, the Supplemental Impact Aid Flexibility Act, allows school districts to utilize existing student counts on their Impact Aid applications. Supporters say flexibility is needed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to create uncertainty for schools across the nation.

“In order to support the South Dakota school districts that participate in the Impact Aid Program, it’s imperative that we again provide them with the ability to use previously reported student headcounts on their Impact Aid applications that they will complete this fall,” Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota) said in a news release after introducing S.2959 on October 7, 2021.

“Not only would this free up time and resources that can be directed to their students, it would also protect school districts from future Impact Aid funding reductions due to temporary enrollment declines as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Thune.

“The pandemic continues to hit many Minnesota school districts hard, and for those districts that receive Impact Aid, it’s important that they maintain reliable, stable funding,” added Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minnesota), who serves on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

“This bipartisan legislation will ensure that while the pandemic continues to affect school operations, our Impact Aid districts won’t have to recalculate their student headcounts,” said Smith, a co-sponsor of the S.2959.

School districts are able to secure Impact Aid funding to address their legal inability to impose property taxes on lands held in trust for tribe and individuals and on lands owned by Alaska Native corporations. It also covers the lack of property taxes on federal lands, such as military bases.

“This legislation is a commonsense way to enable all 1,100-plus federally impacted school districts — including Indian lands, military and federal property school districts — to submit timely applications and secure the Impact Aid needed to provide high-quality education to students” said Hilary Goldmann, the executive director of the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools.

The U.S. Senate passed S.2959 on December 13 by unanimous consent. There were no objections to the bill in the chamber.

The U.S. House of Representatives is set to pass the bill under a suspension of the rules as soon as Tuesday, according to the Majority Leader’s calendar. The process is typically used for legislation of a non-controversial nature.

Once S.2959 clears the House, it can be sent to President Joe Biden for his signature. Enactment is extremely time-sensitive, as Impact Aid applications are due by January 31. Late applications can lead to deductions — or even a complete loss — of funding.

The Impact Aid program supports more than 1,100 school districts and over 10 million students, according to a fact sheet distributed by Rep. Mike Levin (D-California) and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) last September. However, it has never been fully funded by the U.S. government, the lawmakers said.

Levin and Young have introduced H.R.5255, the Advancing Toward Impact Aid Full Funding Act, to create a five-year plan to fully fund Impact Aid with $1.1 billion. The bill has not yet received a hearing before the House Committee on Education and Labor.

According to the National Indian Impacted Schools Association, the Impact Aid program helps nearly 600 Indian land school districts secure funding. The group says more than $500 million flows to these districts every year.