The $778 billion Department of Defense funding bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives last month includes a number of measures that could impact the greater Fort Bragg community.
U.S. Rep., Richard Hudson, whose district includes Fort Bragg and about half of Moore County, praised some of the provisions, such as a 2.7 percent pay raise for troops in addition to a basic needs allowance for low-income servicemembers. The legislation would also fund $27.2 million in infrastructure projects at Fort Bragg.
"This is not a perfect bill but overall it is a win for our troops, military families and veterans,” said Hudson.
The Senate has not yet passed its version of the bill, and both chambers will work on a final version in the coming months.
One of Hudson’s priorities in the bill is the Counting Overlooked Base Impact Aid (COBIA) Act. He introduced the legislation in July with U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman to ensure that schools with federally connected children receive the full amount of federal impact aid to which they are entitled.
The funding bill also authorizes a $70 million increase in impact aid funding, which includes $50 million for supplemental impact aid and $20 million for impact aid for eligible children with severe disabilities.
"As Fort Bragg's Congressman and a dad, I care deeply about our military and improving education in North Carolina," said Hudson in a news release. "These amendments will directly benefit schools in our community that receive Impact Aid funding and will help create safer schools everywhere. I will continue to champion common sense solutions that protect taxpayers, improve education and support our military."
Rollie Sampson, Moore County Schools’ military liaison, explained that each school district must submit total numbers of federally connected students to the Department of Education to receive impact aid funding. The information is collected through an annual survey, which is completed by a student’s parent or guardian and turned into their assigned school. Moore County has about an 85 percent collection rate for these forms, currently.
There is a provision that allows installations to assist with collecting accurate data — what’s called “a source check” — but some are reluctant to do this because it is labor intensive.
In 2017, Sampson was selected to participate in a Higher Ground Veterans Advocacy fellowship. At the time, she chaired Moore County Schools’ Military Family Council and recognized that service-connected students were being undercounted because parents were not opting to complete impact aid forms. During her fellowship, she traveled to Washington, D.C., and used the opportunity to speak to Hudson about the issues.
“He’s really become a great advocate for impact aid,” Sampson said, noting that two years ago, he was instrumental in getting increased funding for all school districts.
The COBIA legislation Hudson introduced would require government installations to work with school districts to ensure a complete count of all service-connected students.
MCS received $197.66 for each eligible student during Fiscal Year 2020. In addition, the district received $558.76 for each federally connected child with disabilities. That totaled about $356,400 in unrestricted impact aid funds and $58,600 in restricted funds designated for exceptional children support to MCS last year.
The unrestricted funds are used for needs tied to military support or programs, in addition to funding Sampson’s position and an additional MCS police officer.
Military students are typically the most transient population in the district, Sampson said, so a portion of impact aid funds were used to develop an online process for families to pre-enroll their child before arriving in the area.
Impact aid is also used to fund a peer-to-peer student support group and each school receives a direct distribution from the district based on the number of service-connected students it enrolls. These funds are frequently used for academic enrichment or tutoring services, but are not necessarily restricted to military children.
“We try to be purposeful about impact aid and not just put it in the general fund like the majority of school districts,” Sampson said. “When I spoke to Congressman Hudson’s military legislative assistant, who had called to ask if (COBIA) would be impactful, I was very excited.
“The legislation ensures school districts can maximize the funding they are authorized to receive by establishing a means to certify the federal status of students with missing forms.”