Camden County Schools could lose millions in funding due to a decrease in the federally connected student population.
At Tuesday’s Camden Board of Education meeting, School Superintendent Will Hardin informed Board members that Camden County Schools’ 2019 Federal Impact Aid application was not accepted as a heavily impacted school district. Overall enrollment increased, but the amount of federally connected students dropped below federal funding requirements.
Eligibility for heavily impacted status requires that at least 35 percent of a district’s students be federally connected, a millage rate that is at least 95 percent of the state average, and per-pupil expenditures that are less than the state or national average. While both the tax rate and expenditure criteria were met, the percentage of federally connected students is no longer equal to or above 35 percent – it was 34.742 percent ; a decrease of 12 students.
What is Federal Impact Aid? Federal Impact aid is designed to assist local school districts that have lost property tax revenue due to the presence of tax-exempt federal property. The tax-exempt federal property includes Kings Bay Naval Base along with low-rent housing property. Due to the significant presence of Kings Bay Naval Base, the school district can apply for federal impact funding.
For many years, Camden County Schools has always met federal impact aid requirements for heavily impacted school districts mainly due to the presence of Kings Bay Naval Base. Each year, the school district sends Federal Impact Aid forms home by student survey and diligently tracks each one of them down regardless of the students being federally connected to the military base or not.
In 2017, Camden County Schools became ineligible for Federal Impact Aid disbursements for the fiscal year in 2001. The school district receives these delayed payouts each fiscal year based on the Federal Impact Aid eligibility. At that time, the district was not eligible because the county’s millage rate was not within 95 percent of the state’s millage rate, it was at 94 percent. The Board changed the millage rate to stay in compliance with the 95 percent federal requirement. Additionally, changes in the new federal education law allowed the district be awarded impact aid dollars as a “hold harmless” year.
Each year, the district must apply for the federal funds. The amount of federal funding supports about 80 teachers for Camden County Schools. This district does not have an exact amount of the lost revenue, but the loss of impact could be approximately $3 million, according to the Board meeting’s agenda detail. The school district will reapply next year, as enrollment could change.
Camden County Schools is no stranger to hardship. The school system had to make cuts to arts programs and furloughs employees during the economic recession amid major austerity cuts in the state funding formula that still exist today. Since Gov. Deal has been in office, more state funding has been restored, but not entirely.
Camden County Schools said the following in a released statement about the denial of funding:
If a shortfall is imminent, one or a combination of, alternatives must be employed; reserved fund balance may be used to supplement revenue, programs may be pared down or eliminated and, or, more revenue must be raised. As always, projected expenditures are analyzed closely each year to ensure the resources we have are spent in way that affords our students the maximum benefit. While we are disappointed about the potential that some initiatives we believe can, and do, help children may be postponed or pared back, we will work to ensure the resources we have are used to benefit all students.
The district will continue to be eligible for basic support and other elements of the program which is funded through the US Department of Education to compensate communities who have large amounts of Federal property exempt from local taxes which support education. The potential loss of revenue cannot be quantified at this time because funds available for the Impact Aid program are determined by congressional appropriations to the US Department of Education and by the needs revealed nationally as schools like Camden submit their applications.
While this news is disappointing, school leaders and the Board have faced financial challenges before. During the economic downturn between 2009 and 2013, as a result of state cuts to education, Camden County Schools lost, on average, $3.6 million per year for a total of $18.1 million during a five year period. Collaboration between building and system leaders, with the approval of the Board, resulted in the selection of cuts that minimized the impact on student success. During that very challenging period, learning to be even more efficient was mandatory. Camden’s capacity for this type work is evidenced by data for the most recent school year which includes being one of only 11 districts in Georgia earning 4 ½ or 5 stars on the state’s financial efficiency rating scale while earning the 7th highest score in Georgia on the states comprehensive report card, the College and Career Readiness Performance Index (CCRPI).