The Impact Laws
September 23, 1950, and September 30, 1950
The term “impact laws” refers to two pieces of legislation adopted in tandem in 1950. Together, they were designed to compensate local school districts for the costs associated with federal lands and facilities. Federal purchase of land takes it off of local tax rolls, making it difficult for schools to be adequately financed. The placement of federal facilities in a school district can significantly and rapidly increase the number of schoolchildren to be served, thereby imposing a financial burden on the local community. During World War II, the federal government enacted temporary legislation to deal with these problems, but not a permanent response. In 1950, Congress attempted to fashion a lasting response to deal with the impact of federal activities on local schools.
The two pieces of legislation were constructed together and adopted a week apart. Public Law (P.L.) 815 provided funds for the construction of new school facilities needed due to federal activities, such as military bases and defense contractors. Public Law 874 provided funds for the ongoing maintenance and operational costs of schools needed due to federal activities. The laws created two of the very first programs whereby the federal government provided funding for general primary and secondary education. Since their adoption, the impact laws have been the focus of contentious debates over school desegregation and the equality of federal funding, but they are today politically sacrosanct. Impact aid now exceeds a billion dollars per year, spread across nearly all congressional districts, and the impact-aid coalitions in the House and Senate are large and influential. Despite early controversies, therefore, the im