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Riham Feshir, Forum Communications Co., Published January 09 2011

Minnesota districts in dark on Impact Aid money

For more than 60 years, school districts on Indian lands and military bases have been receiving Impact Aid federal dollars.

But every year, districts like Minnesota’s Waubun-Ogema-White Earth don’t know how much money they’ll receive because the program has to get reauthorized every year.

Sometimes the district ­doesn’t get the allocations for a specific year until two or three years later when the federal government begins to play catch-up.

“The 2011 fiscal year, we haven’t received anything yet,” Superintendent Mitch Anderson told the school board this past week.

Many school districts across the United States 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, including Indian lands, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The Impact Aid program was established to help those districts through special challenges they face.

Funding is dependent on the number of students eligible. Children of parents who live or work on federal and Indian lands or military bases are counted. A number of students enrolled in the Waubun-Ogema-White Earth district are children of parents who work at the Shooting Star Casino.

The total number of students eligible this year is almost 400.

The money goes into the general fund and is used for various programs and salaries, Anderson said, adding that the district has budgeted about $800,000 as Impact Aid money.

“It’s the oldest federal education law out there,” he said, but added that every year it needs to go through reauthorization in Congress.

It’s easier to fund military bases because of the stronger lobbying efforts they have, but when it comes to Indian lands, it’s easier to put it on the chopping block.

Anderson said it’s important that local representatives understand the need for Impact Aid. Waubun-Ogema-White Earth operates with less local revenue than other school districts, because federal properties there are exempt from local property taxes.

Riham Feshir is a writer for The Detroit Lakes Tribune