Mikulski Calls for Extra Cash for School Districts Bitten By BRAC-Related Hypergrowth - Southern Maryland Headline News

Mikulski Calls for Extra Cash for School Districts Bitten By BRAC-Related Hypergrowth

WASHINGTON - Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) has joined a group of her Senate colleagues to call for federal assistance for school systems impacted by the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission recommendations, which were signed into law by President Bush in November 2005. In a letter to Office of Management and Budget Director (OMB) Rob Portman, the Senators called for an increase in federal funding to schools impacted by BRAC to help support necessary construction and expansion efforts.

"The 2005 BRAC announcements were great news for Maryland and the nation. They were a testament to the strength of Maryland's military bases, our military and the communities that support them," said Senator Mikulski. "But we must now work together to help Maryland address the increased demands on our communities, including transportation, schools and housing. As leader of the Maryland delegation, I will work with Governor-elect Martin O'Malley to make sure our state gets the federal, state and local support it needs."

St. Mary's County alone is in need of one high school, one middle school, and three elementary schools. Recent estimates for a new high school have reached $64,000,000 of local and state money. In addition to overcrowding in the schools, the shortage of adequate facilities has other economic impacts. Residential development is on hold in many areas because the existing schools could not support the new residents.

Mikulski's call for new federal funding does not specify any particular amount. Rather it calls for an "initial infusion of funding." Mikulski also suggests that the federal funds be dependent on state and local governments providing matching funds and that an expiration date be set.

The text of Mikulski's letter to OMB Director Portman is printed below:

Dear Mr. Portman:

As you know, the Department of Defense's Base Re-alignment and Closure (BRAC) initiative, coupled with the transformation of the Army and the global re-positioning of troops, is bringing exponential growth to many military installations and communities around the country. While this growth will ultimately be a great benefit to the affected areas, the five-year period from fiscal years 2008 through 2012 presents great challenges as these communities prepare to receive a surge of military personnel and their families. These communities are faced with the issue of how surrounding school systems will provide adequate classroom space for the approximately 71,000 school-aged military dependents who will be attending those educational institutions beginning in the next school year.

Local communities are in the process of determining their requirements for additional classroom space, and construction costs associated with such growth have generally been absorbed locally. However, these communities are finding themselves in a "perfect storm" of military growth as a result of the federal government's actions. For this reason, we believe an initial infusion of funding is necessary and appropriate to allow impacted school systems to meet construction costs that will be incurred before revenue from local taxes, bond efforts and state support can be realized. This funding will provide school systems with a stable start as they work to do their best for all students, both military and non-military, as all students will feel the burden of inadequate educational facilities if prompt action is not taken.

In light of this problem, we urge you, after careful verification of numbers and timelines for incoming students, to allocate funds in the President's fiscal year 2008 budget request to provide for an initial infusion of federal funds. We suggest that the receipt of any federal funds be dependent on state and local governments providing matching funds. Additionally and in order to bound the federal government's commitment, we suggest a provision establishing an end date for the expenditure of federal dollars. These public school systems share the goal of providing the children of this nation with an excellent education and need assistance to meet the initial construction costs associated with the impending growth in their communities.

The Seven Rivers Coalition, representing these Local Education Agencies (LEA), has presented the Office of Management and Budget with specific data for each of the affected communities. The Department of Defense has also recently delivered a Congressionally-mandated report outlining, among other things, their assistance to LEAs and potential collaboration efforts with other state and federal agencies. Initiatives in the report are designed to both enhance existing federal resources and explore alternatives to federal funding. These options include the transfer of federal property, tax-exempt loans, and the implementation of technology such as virtual learning, to name a few. Communities will explore these options in addition to any federal assistance they obtain.

We urge you to consider the needs of these communities and school systems and help provide the means for them to begin to meet the needs of the military children they will be honored to educate, while enabling them to continue to provide a quality education experience to the children who already call these communities home.

Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

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