Today, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand announced their push to protect the Highland Falls school district from steep cuts in federal Impact Aid that would cripple the school district. The Administration's proposed budget for the coming fiscal year would eliminate Impact Aid Section 8002 Funding, a program that provides funding for districts that cover a large portion of federally-owned, nontaxable land. Highland Falls relies on the program that provided over $1.9 million last year and up to $2.5 million in previous years, to make up for the loss of property tax funds due to the unusually large percentage of land within the district that is owned by the federal government. Losing this funding could force teacher layoffs, cancellation of sports and music program, and wreak havoc on the educational development of thousands of Hudson Valley students.
"Highland Falls is already in a tough spot, but this budget would pull the rug right out from underneath our students, teachers, and parents," said Schumer. "We absolutely cannot let that happen. Highland Falls is a unique district with unique needs, and the federal government shouldn't turn a blind eye to that. I'm going to fight as hard as I can to restore these funds to make sure that our kids have great teachers on the job, the right books in the classroom, and options for extracurricular activities to complement their studies."
"Families near West Point rely on this funding to keep their schools strong, giving our children the education and services they need," Senator Gillibrand said. "Budgets are all about priorities. And we can't afford to turn our backs on families in this community by cutting funding that will leave our schools short, and risk rising property taxes. We need to fight to reinstate this important investment."
Highland Falls School District is in a unique position. The land within the district is approximately 93% exempt from property taxation due to wholly exempt Federal and State owned land. The acquisition of land by the United States Military Academy at West Point accounts for approximately 72% of this exempt property, while New York State parklands and other property accounts for the remaining 21%. Because of this situation, the school district has already been forced to make tough decisions in past school years, including closing its elementary school, letting go of staff, ending vital extracurricular programs and raising property taxes.
Impact Aid is a federal program that provides funding to school districts across the United States that include within their boundaries parcels of land that are owned by the federal government or that have been removed from the local tax rolls by the federal government. Highland Falls currently receives revenue from this program, but could lose future funds if the Administration's budget proposal is adopted without restoring those funds.
A copy of the Senators' letter appears below:
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Dear Chairman Harkin and Ranking Member Shelby,
We are writing to express our extreme concern with the elimination of the Section 8002 funding of Title VIII in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the President's Fiscal Year 2013 budget proposal. Such a cut will be devastating for many school districts, especially the Highland Falls-Ft. Montgomery Central School District (Highland Falls CSD) located near the United States Military Academy at West Point. We urge you to reinstate this funding during your budget negotiations.
Title VIII, or Impact Aid, has proven to be a lifeline for over 1,300 federally impacted school districts since its establishment in 1950. As you know, school districts receive funds through a formula grant which provides federal assistance to districts that are burdened by nontaxable federal land and installations. Federal property is exempt from local property taxes. These school districts face the unique challenge of providing quality education to all students with less local revenue than that available to surrounding school districts.
Highland Falls CSD serves the many children whose parents work at West Point during their high school years. West Point has elementary and middle schools on the installation that provide education through 8th grade. More than 90% of the land in Highland Falls CSD is federal or state property and, therefore, not taxable. Section 8002 provides more than $2 million annually to the Highland Falls CSD which allows them to adequately serve and educate West Point and non-West Point families.
Eliminating this funding would have serious ramifications for the community in and around West Point and the over 250 other school districts around the country that rely on these funds to operate. We feel the federal government should continue with the promise it made in 1938 to contribute to the education of students in areas where their land was removed from potential taxation. Thank you for your continued support of the Impact Aid program and again, we encourage you to reinstate this vital funding.