In what is becoming an annual legislative ritual, the Carter administration is asking Congress to reduce drastically the $800 million impact aid program for school districts with high concentrations of U.S. employees.
In what is becoming a ritualistic response, Congress - 400 of whose members live in school districts that receive impact aid funds - is gearing up to fight the reductions.
A memorandum and draft legislation currently making the rounds on Capitol Hill would slash more than $13 million from the more than $42 million that school systems in the Washington area receive under the impact aid program.
In a letter to Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr., Rep. Hebert E. Harris (D-Va.) asked federal officials to consider the impact on school systems of any reduction in the funds.
"All federal activity of whatever degree (effects) local school systems by reducing local tax revenues for schools and by adding school children to school enrollments. Any failure to recognize these needs, in our views, would put the federal government in the position of shirking its responsibility for the impact of the federal preservice in our local public elementary and secondary schools," Harris's letter said.
The letter was signed by 100 congressmen, including all the representatives from the Washington area.
Enacted during World War II, the impact aid program is designed to reimburse school districts for the cost of educating children whose parents live or work at federal installations or live in federally subsidized housing and don't normally pay local taxes.
During the war years, it was argued that the sudden concentration of large numbers of U.S. emmployees in various locations was placing an undue strain on local school systems. Since the 1950s, however, the program has been under sporadic White House attack, but Congress always has beaten back efforts to reduce payments substantially. More than 4,300 school districts around the nation receive payments under the impact aid program, and these districts are located in the congressional districts of 400 of the 435 members of the House.
In the Washington area, Fairfax County would face the largest loss in payments under the draft legislation. The Fairfax benefits would fall $4.1 million from $13 million to $3.9 million. Montgomery County would lose $1.2 million; Prince George's $2.5 million and the District of Columbia $2.4 million.
William Blakely, deputy assistant secretary for legislation at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, said the draft legislation currently being circulated is not the final version the President will propose to Congress.
Blakely did say that it is likely some reductions in the impact aid formula would be sought.
In the Washington area, the most far reaching change being sought would eliminate from eligibility children whose parents work at federal installations but do not live on federal property.
That provision would have a major effect in just about every local jurisdiction, an aide to Harris said.
The current confrontation between Congress and the administration over the impact aid payments is the second such clash this year.
In February, shortly after taking office, President Carter refused to recommend nationwide funding of the impact aid program. A bipartisan coalition of Republicans and Democrats pushed the program through despite the President's objections. The formula changes and reductions currently being sought are for fiscal 1979, which begins next October.
Critics of impact aid contend that some of the nation's most affluent suburbs, including those around Washington, are being doubly rewarded for having residents who are typically well paid federal workers. Supporters say the funds make up for the lack of an industrial tax base in a region dominated by the federal government.