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WORDS FROM WASHINGTON

Federal government must meet its responsibility to Central Washington schools

Over 33 percent of Central Washington is owned by the federal government. We understand all too well the consequences of federal land ownership and the impact it has on the ability of schools to make needed improvements.

This is a very real and very serious issue for the Glenwood, Grand Coulee Dam, Granger, Kennewick, Mabton, Mt. Adams, Quincy, Richland, Sunnyside, Toppenish and Wapato school districts. I recently offered proposals in Congress that would help refocus federal education policy on meeting our commitments to these schools.

The federal government's Impact Aid program was established in 1950 to compensate school districts for the substantial and continuing financial burden resulting from the loss of tax revenue due to federal land ownership. Because the program has not been fully funded, many federally impacted school districts have been left unable to make critical facility upgrades.

When the House of Representatives recently considered a bill to drastically expand the federal government's role in school construction and maintenance (activities historically funded at the state and local level), I offered two amendments that would have helped ensure that the federal government's existing responsibilities to federally impacted schools were met first.

My first amendment would have required that the federal government's commitment to federally impacted schools be met through full funding of the Impact Aid program before taxpayer dollars are spent on the new federal spending program being proposed.

My second amendment would have simply given preference to federally impacted schools as new construction and maintenance funds are distributed. Unfortunately, Democrats who control Congress blocked the House of Representatives from debating or voting on either of my amendments.

The federal government has a responsibility to ensure that no child's education is shortchanged because of federal land ownership. And, in my view, it's only fair that the federal government take care of federally impacted schools before launching a brand new spending program costing billions of dollars that's aimed at schools that aren't federally impacted. If the federal government cannot meet its current responsibilities to federally impacted schools, then it certainly has no business creating a brand new $20 billion spending program for other schools.

Rather than spending billions to allow for an unprecedented expansion of the federal government, Congress must refocus its efforts on keeping a 50-year old promise to schools and children impacted by federal actions.

Congressman Doc Hastings (R-Pasco) represents Central Washington's Fourth Congressional District.

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