Lake County News-Sun
By Judy Masterson
November 3, 2011
Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon visited Naval Station Great Lakes on Thursday to draw attention to the continuing need for federal impact aid among schools that serve military families.
Simon, who chairs a statewide military base retention committee, supports a bill that would allow five public school districts to continue to pool the number of military kids they serve in order to qualify for a higher rate of federal impact aid.
First approved by Congress in 1950, impact aid serves to compensate school districts that lose property tax revenue due to the presence of tax-exempt federal property, including military installations.
Districts that receive impact aid for Navy students include North Chicago 187, North Shore 112 (Highland Park/Highwood), and Township High School 113 (Highland Park/Deerfield). Schools in Glenview also “pool” military students.
The impact aid bill, which is supported by U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, would make North Chicago eligible for heavy-impact status for the next five years. If the bill doesn’t pass, the district could lose millions.
The U.S. Department of Education pays heavily impacted districts $6,100 per student per year. North Chicago schools educated 1,312 students from military families last year.
But fewer military dependents are in the pipeline, partly due to continued privatization of military housing, which is expected to send hundreds of military dependents to other districts.
Simon acknowledged a perception among military families that North Chicago schools “are not ideal.”
North Chicago schools chief Milt Thompson said the district is working to change that perception.
“We’re starting to do some things that will change the dynamics in the district and hopefully bring some families back,” Thompson said. “Of course, we hope the funding is maintained at the super impact aid level.”
Simon is calling for a “unified voice” from Illinois elected officials to “retain bases and retain jobs.”
“Given our current budget picture, we’re anticipating looking at increased efficiencies and making some cuts,” Simon said. “The Department of Defense looks at the big picture in considering where is a good place to keep a base.”
Quality of life and quality of local schools as important considerations in any base realignment, Simon said.
As chair of the state’s Interagency Military Base Support and Economic Development Committee, Simon is visiting each of the state’s military installations, also including Scott Air Force Base and Rock Island Arsenal, to learn about base operations, impact on the state economy and relationship with local communities. The committee was formed in 2005 in response to nationwide base closures.