A small card to be sent home soon with Onslow County students has a big impact on the school district’s budget.
Specifically, it’s an impact of about $4 million.
Onslow County Schools is one of three area school districts that benefits from the federal Impact Aid Program.
The program administered through the U.S. Department of Education dates back to 1950, when it was established by law under President Harry Truman. It provides assistance to eligible school districts to compensate them for lost local tax base from the presence of federal lands.
In Onslow County, home of Camp Lejeune and a military presence that also includes New River air station, there is no shortage of federal land.
“Forty-two percent of our land mass in Onslow County is owned by the federal government,” said Judy Copeland, who is retired from Onslow County Schools and continues to coordinate the Impact Aid program for the school district.
Copeland noted that when the Marine Corps arrived in Onslow County in the early 1940s, it saw essential land, prime waterfront property ideal for training and establishing a Marine Corps base. While a valued part of the community, Copeland, a Marine Corps wife of 25 years, said the presence of the military also took away lands that belonged to Onslow County people and the county could no longer benefit from property taxes from the land.
The federal Impact Aid Program stepped in to help.
“When they took that land, and land across the United States, not just here but any federally impacted land mass, they began to supplement us, those land mass areas that could not generate tax base,” Copeland said.
But receiving the funds is not automatic.
Eligible school systems must submit applications for funding each year and key to receiving funds is the survey card that parents of students in Onslow County Schools are asked to complete to determine how many of its students are considered federally connected.
Schools receive funding for the enrollment of students whose parents are active duty military or civilians employed on eligible federal property.
According to the cards to go out in Onslow County, examples of eligible federal properties include Camp Lejeune, air stations at New River and Cherry Point, the Army Reserve Center in Morehead City, and Coast Guard Station Emerald Isle and Coast Guard Base Fort Macon.
If a card is not returned, a student cannot be considered in the request for funding even if they are federally connected.
“If we don’t get the card back, we can’t count that child,” Copeland said.
Copeland recently distributed the survey cards to each school in the district. The cards are to be sent home with students on Sept. 26, which is the 20th day of the school year.
Copeland said parents are asked to return the cards as soon as possible, preferably the next day.
The cards are collected by each student’s homeroom teacher and then each survey card must be checked for errors and to ensure they are properly completed.
All cards are due to the Onslow County Schools central office, which then has to compile all the information to submit in the grant application.
Last school year, 24 of Onslow County’s schools returned all of the cards distributed and 11 of those had no errors on the cards.
Copeland credits the teachers and each school’s survey contact person for the school district’s success in getting the cards completed so that it can receive all the funding it should receive.
Copeland said she had a school contact person text her on Christmas Eve to make sure she got several cards that parents completed over the holiday break.
“That’s how hard they work to make this process happen,” she said.
The return of the cards is essential to ensure that the school district receives all the funds it is eligible to receive. Last fiscal year, Onslow County Schools received $4.3 million and for the past five years has received between $4 million and $5 million in federal Impact Aid.
Copeland said the number varies from year to year but, in general, about 40 percent of the school district’s 26,000 students are federally connected and counted toward the funding.
NOT JUST ONSLOW
Onslow County Schools isn’t the only school system to benefit from the Federal Impact Aid. Neighboring school districts in Carteret and Pender counties are also eligible for the funding, though neither Duplin nor Jones have enough eligible students to qualify.
Carteret County Schools Chief Kathy Carswell said the school district has made a concerted effort over the past several years to ensure they get the survey cards returned and, in turn, the funding they are eligible to receive.
“We’ve really made a focus on trying to collect the cards and getting the information out to parents,” Carswell said.
Carteret County is home to Coast Guard stations at Fort Macon as well as Emerald Isle and also sees a military impact from families who work at the Marine Corps bases in neighboring Onslow and Craven counties.
Carswell said that last year about 1,700 of Carteret County’s 8,390 students were federally connected.
While the county has seen some growth, Carswell said she believes much of the school district’s increase in Impact Aid has been an increase in efforts to get all that they are eligible to receive.
Last year the school district received $116,300, nearly double what it received three years earlier.
“In 2013 we only received about $62,000. We’ve really been working hard and we give the parents credit for getting those cards back,” Carswell said.
In 2015-2016, Pender County School’s enrollment on the 20th day of school was 8,930 and approximately 509 of its students were federally connected, according to Sherry Kimbro, the Pender school district’s director of Testing and Accountability.
Kimbro said seen a growth in federally connected students enrolled in Pender County Schools, with most of the growth seen in the eastern region of the county.
Federal Impact Aid for Pender County Schools has grown from $14,950 in 2013 to $26,564 in 2016.
In general, Impact Aid funds can be used by the school districts at their discretion.
“We want it to go into the classroom because that is where the greatest need is,” Carswell said.
Pender puts its funds into its general fund, and last year it was used for operational costs.
Copeland said Onslow County Schools has traditionally put its funds toward hiring teachers.
Every cent counts, Copeland said, and Impact Aid is there to help recoup some of the funds it can’t get in real estate taxes from the federal lands.
“It has nothing to do with the taxes you pay as an individual,” Copeland said. “It has to do with the land that Onslow County can’t benefit from financially.”