The US military is taking a close look at the public schools and the economic standards of the communities that host military installations. Karen Jowers, writing for the Navy Times, says that defense officials have formed a group which will look into issues related to military children’s education in community schools outside the base’s gates.
Carla Coulson, director of installation services for the Army’s office of the assistant chief of staff for installation management, has been part of the discussion concerning ties between the economic standing and the education standards of communities that contain military installations. Coulson said:
“They’re looking across all the military services, with respect to what the larger department might be able to do to address some of the concerns we have with public schools.”
The Stimson Center, a nonpartisan think tank, released a report last week which found that schools that offered a lower quality of education could cost communities their military bases because the military makes quality education a priority in making base closure decisions.
“If host communities do not offer soldiers’ children a consistently high-quality education, they risk the economic challenges that result from losing support of a major employer,” concluded the report, “The Army Goes to School: The Connection between K-12 Education Standards and the Military-Base Economy.”
Although the study was limited to Army bases, all military branches are focused on this issue. Lt. Gen. David Halverson, commander of Army Installation Management Command and assistant chief of staff for installation management, said the military uses a variety of factors to decide Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) processes, but education is an important issue for Army families.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno commissioned a study on the situation which was followed by open discussions between installation leaders and local school districts about school performances. Any community with 200 military children in a local public school has been involved in these discussions. Tom Brady, director of the Department of Defense Education Activity, works closely with local districts as well.
The Military Child Education Coalition was formed to work on these and related issues, and all states are signed on to the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children aimed at assisting with transitions, deployments, and other matters involving military children, when districts ask for that type of help.
The Fayetteville Observer’s Drew Brooks reports that many communities depend on military bases for their economic status, some up to 90% of every dollar earned. These locations could suffer negative effects if bases realign due to inadequate education standards. Also, inconsistent education standards and performance have the chance of decreasing retention, which officials want to avoid in order to maintain the quality of the all-volunteer force.
North Carolina-based Stimson fellow Matthew Leatherman, author of the study, said:
“Education and family care is an important part of military culture and the benefits that troops receive for their service. The Army plays a critical role in the economies of local communities and it relies on those states and communities to provide an education that will help retain career soldiers.”
A piece broadcast on WMAZ-TV says 19 Army posts are responsible for 15% of the total income of their host counties. In six counties, Army posts were responsible for 50% or even more of each dollar earned, and four other posts generated at least one-third of their counties’ earnings.