Public School Funding + Your Special Needs Military Child

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Some things are certain — even in these uncertain times.

One of those certainties is the importance of high-quality education for military kids, particularly those with special needs. Eighty percent of military school-aged children attend our nation’s public schools. NMFA is here to help with all the facts, tools, and resources military families need to advocate for their children’s K-12 special needs education.

One of the most important things every parent advocate needs to understand is how schools are funded. Every single service your child receives has to be paid for somehow, and the better you understand that process, the more you’re able to focus your efforts to ensure your child’s academic needs are me.

IDEA and School Funding

No matter how financially imperiled or underfunded a school district is, special needs education services are guaranteed and protected under federal law. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that states provide special needs children with a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment possible. How that education is paid for is where things get tricky.

Part B of IDEA authorized Congress to pay for 40 percent of the average per pupil cost to educate special needs kids. While that still left states with 60 percent of the bill, the federal government was, in theory at least, willing to assume nearly half the cost to ensure that all American kids get the education they deserve – even if they’re among the most expensive to educate. In practice, though, the federal government doesn’t come close to paying for that promised 40 percent. In fact, as of June 2020, the federal government only pays for 15 percent of the cost to educate IDEA-covered school children.

Instead, local districts are making up the difference out of their general operating funds – and many don’t have the money they need. IF YOU WANT TO CONTACT YOUR CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION TO SUPPORT IMPACT AID FUNDING IN THE NEXT CORONAVIRUS RELIEF FUNDING, CLICK HERE.

The majority of public school funding comes from the local school district and/or municipality. States also chip in, but each state uses a different formula to determine state-level allocations to individual school districts.

Special needs military kids benefit from more than IDEA and state education funding, though. Schools serving military kids can pursue additional revenue streams from the U.S. Department of Education to help reimburse the districts for the cost to educate military dependent students living on or off base.

Impact Aid (And the Parent Pupil Survey You Need to Fill Out)

Impact Aid provides both general funds and special education funds to school districts serving military children.

Most public school districts are funded largely by local revenue, like property taxes. But land owned by the federal government – such as military installations and Indian Trust and Treaty lands – are tax-exempt, so while they might be home to thousands of families relying on local schools, they aren’t contributing to the property taxes that actually fund them.

You can think of Impact Aid like Uncle Sam paying his own local property taxes, but instead of filing a tax return, Impact Aid functions as a federal program that partially reimburses school districts for the lost tax revenue (and any additional costs) caused by the presence of nontaxable federal property.

Those dollars go to work for military kids in public schools, but the program doesn’t function without the appropriate data. That’s where you come in! Every year, parents can fill out a voluntary Parent Pupil Survey – and the information collected is what is used to determine how much federal Impact Aid funding a school district is eligible for. School districts distribute these surveys to families if they are eligible for Impact Aid dollars.

In general, the more Parent Pupil Surveys that a school district receives back, the more funding it receives. The formula for Impact Aid funding includes the number of military children attending that district, among other factors. For special education, in recent years a school district receives $1,200 for each military child living on an installation with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and $600 for each off-installation military child with an IEP whose parents filled out the survey card.

Don’t Skip the IEP Either – It Helps Pay for Services!

Federal law also mandates that special needs children must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) developed along with parents, teachers, and school administrators. These plans are the bread-and-butter of your special needs kid’s education – the plan will provide for your child’s academic, programmatic, and related needs and supports. It’s also a legally binding document that allows you to ensure your child’s educational needs are being met.

While many school districts are able to offer phenomenal, supportive intervention services without an IEP, don’t skip getting one if your kid needs it – it will help the school district out, too! States are required to report data on counts and performance of students with IEPs to the U.S. Department of Education annually, and your Local Education Agency – probably your public board of education – receives funds per child based on those formal IEPs. (We’re going to stress it again: Get an IEP if you need one!)

So What Does All This Funding Pay For?

All students have requirements tailored to their needs, as specified in their IEP. The services those students receive vary in cost but might include: salary for special education teacher/teacher’s aide, one-on-one aides for some students, special supplies and equipment, special transportation, salary of bus driver for transportation, and many other possible services that ensure your kids are able to get the free, appropriate public education they deserve.

Are you having issues getting your military kid’s special education needs met? Let us know at

By Nicole Russell, Government Relations Deputy Director