(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Parents don't have to give money to get money for their child's school -- they simply have to fill out their Impact Aid form.

Garrison commander Col. Bill Marks issued a homework assignment for parents across the Tennessee Valley Sept. 17 -- fill out an Impact Aid form and turn it back in. Team Redstone, together with school systems across North Alabama, celebrated the kickoff to the annual education grant program at Williams Elementary.

"Every form not turned in, that's potentially money left on the table," Marks said. "We need that money coming in to our community."

The form means serious dollars and cents for area schools. Last year, Huntsville City Schools received nearly $400,000 in Impact Aid money, Madison City Schools received just over $200,000, and Madison County just under $200,000. Those unconstrained funds may be used as a school system sees fit, whether it be hiring more teachers, improving technology or purchasing school supplies.

About 10 years ago, Huntsville City Schools received nearly $900,000 in Impact Aid money, according to Johnny Giles, chief of staff for Huntsville City Schools, even though their enrollment numbers were relatively the same then as last year. The bottom line: parents, fill out your forms.

"We did well last year, but I don't think we got close to what we could do," Marks told the students gathered for the kickoff. "I would like to see these numbers double next year so we can provide resources, unconstrained resources, to give these people here the ability to do those things necessary to make sure that you have the best education that we can provide."

The process is simple. Fill out the one-page form for your school system, for each school age child you have, and return it to your child's school. Only one parent or guardian needs to either work or live on federal property, or serve as active duty military, including Guard and Reserve, to be eligible. Eligible federal properties include Redstone Arsenal, as well as Bellefonte, Browns Ferry, Widow Creek, Anniston VA Medical Center, Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, Guntersville Dam and Reservoir, most TVA substations, the FAA Air Traffic Control Tower at the Huntsville International Airport and the federal buildings/courthouse in Huntsville on Holmes Avenue.

"Whether your parent or guardian feels like they qualify or not, please turn it back in filled out," Marks said.

He set a challenge for the students gathered for the kickoff: the first Williams class to bring in all of their forms gets a party with ice cream and cookies, courtesy of the colonel.

"It's a community effort," Marks told the students. "What's good for the Arsenal is good for the community, and what's good for the community is good for the Arsenal. This is how the community helps the Arsenal, by bringing these forms in to your class so that we can get those funds to resource those things that the schools need that aren't funded today. Please, your homework is, go search for this in your backpacks, and pull it out before you pull anything else out, and have your parents fill it out, sign it, and bring it back in. Please. It's that important."

The education grant program was created in 1950 to assist school districts that may have less local revenue due to the presence of land owned by the federal government in the area.

"The federal government is exempt from paying state and local taxes," Marks said. "What happens as a result of that is the local school systems don't get that revenue from those taxes, and Impact Aid is designed to reimburse or offset the impact that has to your local school systems."

In order for a school system to be eligible for the program, the student population must either have 400 students or 3 percent of the student body who are children of military personnel, or 1,000 students or 10 percent of the student body, whose parents or guardians are military or federally connected.

To download a form, visit www.theschoolsfoundation.org/current-initiatives/federal-impact-aid.