Rep. Mike Bost assisting Mascoutah School District with funding issues

U.S. Rep. Mike Bost of Murphysboro.
U.S. Rep. Mike Bost of Murphysboro. Derik Holtmann

When it comes to school funding, the formula is often complicated. It’s even more complex for school districts like Mascoutah District 19, which receives impact aid from the federal government.

Impact aid compensates local schools for “substantial and continuing financial burden” resulting from federal activities, such as educating children of military service members. The federal government provides compensation because local governments are unable to collect property taxes from land owned by the government.

Mascoutah District 19 receives about $8 million annually through the program, according to Superintendent Craig Fiegel, due to its proximity to Scott Air Force Base.

Fiegel said the district was recently informed by the United States Department of Education that it was losing eligibility for heavily impacted aid, which meant a projected loss of about $4 million annually.

“Scott Air Force Base is home to thousands of service members and their families,” U.S. Rep. Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro) said in a released statement. “Due to the fact that these communities are located on federal property and unable to collect property taxes and other revenue, Impact Aid helps fill the gap. When I learned that Mascoutah would no longer be eligible for this critical federal funding, I committed to securing a short-term fix until we can find a long-term solution. In addition, I am going to seek answers regarding why the school district wasn’t informed earlier so it could make adjustments to protect this funding.”

The House of Representatives passed an amendment by Bost on Tuesday night that secured additional Impact Aid Program funding for Mascoutah School District. The amendment provides enhanced payment for students that live in privatized military housing within the school district boundaries. This additional funding wasn’t slated to start until next year but if approved by the Senate as well, it will begin this year.

Fiegel explained Mascoutah District 19 meets all the requirements for heavily impacted aid except one: Mascoutah failed to maintain a property tax levy equal to 95 percent of the average of property tax levies of all districts in the state.

27 school districts in United States receive federal Impact Aid

2 schools districts in Illinois including Mascoutah School District 19

Fiegel said it’s difficult for Mascoutah to set its property tax levy since they don’t know what other districts’ levies will be.

“We don’t know the average tax levies in the state for almost three years from the time they are set,” he said.

The district’s 2012 levy dropped the district below the 95-percent threshold, according to Fiegel.

“Our complaint and Rep. Bost helped us with this problem — it takes time to get that information,” Fiegel said. “We didn’t qualify for the 2012 levy, which is essentially fiscal year 2015 impact aid.”

He also estimated the district wouldn’t qualify with its 2013 or 2014 levies either.

“It appears we are not going to make the 95-percent (threshold) for three years,” Fiegel said, which means a potential loss of about $12 million. “It’s really not fair when we are losing 50 percent of our impact aid payment.”

For the 2015 levy, Fiegel said the school board increased it “pretty significantly to meet what we believe to be the 95-percent” average of all the property tax levies in Illinois. “We took it up 22 cents — that’s kind of how far behind we got.”

“The district knows we have to meet this 95-percent requirement,” he said. “The board tries to do that responsibly without over taxing our taxpayers.”

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Hoffman Estates) is working on a companion amendment in the Senate.

Jamie Forsythe: 618-239-2562, @BND_JForsythe