Today, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, announced that two provisions that would secure millions in federal funds for the Highland Falls-Fort Montgomery School District are included in two upcoming pieces of must-pass legislation. Specifically, a provision that allows the school district to receive $3.5 million in annual funding that would have otherwise been eliminated has been included in the omnibus federal spending bill. Additionally, the provision that provides a three-year extension for the critical funding formula that provides Highland Falls with $2 million in federal funding each year has been included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The Senators explained that these separate provisions could both be voted on as soon as this week by the House and Senate and, if passed, will be a victory for the school district, which is in a unique position because the land within its district is approximately 93% exempt from property taxation due to wholly exempt federal and state-owned land. Highland Falls therefore has a very small tax base and, to make matters worse, has been drastically and constantly shortchanged by the state and federal government. These bills will provide the school district with the more than $3.5 million in federal funds needed to keep it up and running despite its small tax base.
Schumer, Gillibrand and Maloney explained that the school district relies on this federal funding to operate its schools because approximately 93% of the land within the district is exempt from property taxation due to the fact that it is federal and state-owned land. As a result, Highland Falls has a very small tax base to fund its schools. The Impact Aid program helps local school districts make up for a funding shortfall caused by having such a large percentage of land exempt from taxation. The Impact Aid 8002 provision included in the omnibus bill would provide the overall $3.5 million in annual funding Highland Falls needs to operate that would have otherwise been eliminated. The larger Impact Aid 8002 program received $66.8 million in Fiscal Year 2014 and, in early 2014, the President released his FY15 budget proposal that zeroed out this account. This would have devastated Highland Falls and Schumer, Gillibrand and Maloney fought to secure the funding in this Fiscal Year 2015 Omnibus Appropriations bill. Additionally, prior to 2013, Highland Falls had been shortchanged by the Impact Aid 8002 funding formula. This was when Schumer, Gillibrand and Maloney stepped in and authored a two-year funding formula change that included a “fix” for Highland Falls in the 2013 NDAA. This provision was set to expire this year until all three fought to ensure that a three year extension was included in this year’s NDAA. This will provide Highland Falls with an additional $2 million it needs to operate.
“This is a major milestone in our quest to secure the critical federal funding that the Highland Falls-Fort Montgomery School District desperately needs. The inclusion of these provisions in the two pieces of must-pass legislation will give Highland Falls the funding it needs to maintain and provide a consistent and robust learning environment for its students,” said Senator Schumer. “All we need now is for these bills to pass both the House and the Senate, and then the request heads straight to the President’s desk. I am urging my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress to vote for this bill and help us fund a school district that relies on federal dollars to operate and educates, among others, the children of our public servants who work at West Point Military Academy.”
“This funding allows children whose families live near West Point to have good schools, a quality education, and access to the services they need,” said Senator Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I am pleased we were able to secure funding for this important investment in our community.”
“These back to back victories for the Highland Falls school district will allow them to keep property taxes low while educating our next generation of leaders. This investment will keep class sizes small while providing a quality education to children both in and out of the classroom,” said Representative Sean Patrick Maloney. “Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand have always been on the frontline to fight for this critical aid, and I applaud their continued commitment.”
“The support from our Senators and Representative Sean Patrick Maloney is invaluable to our local community – especially our children. It means we can strategically plan ahead and support our military impacted children while keeping our commitment to our taxpayers,” said Dr. Debra Jackson, Superintendent of Highland Falls-Fort Montgomery Central School District.
Schumer Gillibrand and Maloney have fought to extend Federal Impact Aid funding for FY15 to Highland Falls as well as the new funding formula for an additional three years. The senators said that, without this extension, Highland Falls would lose out on millions in annual funding. The Senators were successful in getting a temporary two-year fix that provides the Highland Falls school district $2 million per year into the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, but this fix is set to sunset at the end of this fiscal year. The language in this year’s NDAA extends this funding another three years and avoids a return to the days of chronic underfunding for the Highland Falls school district.
The Impact Aid Program is designed to directly compensate local school districts for local revenue lost due to the presence of federally owned, and therefore tax-exempt property, as well as costs incurred due to “federally connected” students, such as the children of armed services personnel working at a nearby military base. These school districts face special challenges — they must provide a quality education to the children living on Indian and other federal lands while often operating with less local revenue than is available to other school districts, because their federal property is exempt from local property taxes or the presence of larger numbers of federally connected students.
Established in 1950, the Impact Aid Program is a major general aid source for over 1,300 school districts nationwide, or almost 10 percent of all districts. For some school districts, Impact Aid supplies as much as 75 percent of the local education operating budget.
Highland Falls has received money from Impact Aid for years, but until the Senators stepped in in 2013, the program had an artificial cap that prevented the Highland Falls district from getting its full share of aid, shortchanging it by approximately $2 million. The legislative language included in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 changed the federal funding formula to lift this cap. However, the language is set to expire at the end of this year, which is why the Senators are urging their colleagues in the Senate to pass this three-year extension as part of the NDAA.