Teacher working with special needs child in classroom

Understanding Special Education Funding for Military Children

The field of special education has made tremendous progress in a short time. The most important source of federal funding for special education is the Individuals with Disabilities Act. This law says that children with disabilities must receive a free, appropriate public education.

The number of students with disabilities served under IDEA has increased by 25% in the past two decades. Funding has not kept pace, which leaves the local school districts to pay a higher proportion of the special education costs.

For school districts that educate federal-connected students, including children from military families, the U.S. Department of Education administers Impact Aid, a federal formula grant program. 

What is Impact Aid?

Federal Impact Aid is funding allocated from the federal government designed to replace lost local revenue (property taxes) for school districts educating military children.  

Most school districts are funded mostly through local property taxes and fees. However, federal land, including military installations and Indian lands, are tax exempt and do not contribute to the cost of operating a school district. Because of this, school districts educating children who live on federal property do not receive the needed tax revenue to support the cost.  

The purpose of Basic Support Impact Aid is to replace lost local revenue due to the presence of federal activities. It is not an entitlement related to a specific child, nor do the funds need to be spent specifically on the children who generate the revenues. The school district can use Basic Support payments the same way it uses state and local revenues. Additionally, Impact Aid is the only federal education program in which current fiscal year funding reimburses school districts for the previous year’s expenses.

How does Impact Aid apply to families with special needs?

A small portion of federal Impact Aid is reserved for military children with special needs. Impact Aid for Children with Disabilities provides additional assistance to school districts that educate federally connected children, including military children who are eligible for services under IDEA. These payments are in addition to Basic Support Impact Aid Payments and IDEA funds provided on behalf of these children.  

Since the early 1990s, Congress has allocated additional money to the Department of Defense to support school districts that educate military children who require special education services over the state per-pupil expenditures. Approximately 40 districts apply for this funding. 

A school district must use these payments for special education purposes but the payments are not tied to any specific child. 

How can military families learn more about special education funding?

Special education funding is complicated and it can be unclear how these funds are used. One way to learn more is to ask questions and connect with your local school liaison or to the school administration. Your involvement is a way to gain access, understand reporting requirements and learn how your child’s school district is funded.  You may also have a voice in the decision-making process. 

Connect with Military OneSource to learn more about advocating for your child with special educational needs. Call 800-342-9647, or find OCONUS calling options here.