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Letter to the Senate urging opposition to Coburn and Warner amendments to DoD authorization bill

November 30, 2011

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the 3.2 million members of the National Education Association, and especially the over 8,000 employees of the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) represented by the Federal Education Association, we strongly urge your opposition to two amendments to be offered to the Department of Defense Authorization bill that would threaten Department of Defense schools.  Specifically, we oppose:

  • An amendment by Senator Coburn to eliminate domestic Department of Defense schools and
  • An amendment by Senator Warner to require a study of the feasibility of moving these schools from DoD to the Department of Education and/or closing them and sending the students to nearby school districts.

Votes associated with these issues may be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 112th Congress. 

Our nation’s Department of Defense schools offer an excellent education.  Students consistently demonstrate high academic performance.  Military personnel consistently rate their schools as excellent and cite the education available for their dependents as a strong benefit of military service.  In fact, many families admit to choosing to remain living on base so their children can attend these schools.  Educators in DoD schools have special expertise in dealing with the unique needs of military dependents, including helping children deal with frequent relocation and the psychological effects of having a parent deployed, particularly if the parent is sent to a combat zone. 

The Coburn amendment would completely eliminate domestic DoD schools, leaving military families without what they consider to be one of the most significant benefits of military service.  And, in this time of shrinking budgets and overcrowded schools, there is no guarantee that local school districts would have the capacity to absorb base children if domestic DoD schools closed.  Even where the physical capacity exists to accept additional students, local public schools would still lack the specialization necessary to address the needs of military dependents, which can differ greatly from their non-military peers.  In fact, a recent RAND Corporation study found that children of military personnel who have been deployed for at least 19 months are more likely to see a drop in academic performance and an increase in behavioral problems (http://www.rand.org/news/press/2011/04/04.html).

The Warner amendment would spend $1 million in scarce resources to evaluate schools already proven successful and to consider changes that would completely undermine this success. A study is an unnecessary waste of resources, particularly in this time of fiscal crisis.  A 1988 RAND Corporation study already addressed the very issues proposed under the Warner amendment.  Among the findings of the RAND study:

  • DoD schools tend to be located in the southeastern US where funding for education is low, and education achievement indicators, are still among the lowest in the nation.
  • These schools have achieved a high level of school-community cooperation. On some bases (e.g., those with rapid deploying units), the sense of community is highly valued by families and commanding officers.
  • DoD schools offer education programs geared to the needs of military children. They offer additional individualized services not found in the relevant school districts as well as special education programs that parents appear to regard highly. Local school districts cannot provide the type and level of services currently provided by the DoD schools.
  • At some bases, the base parents are concerned that the local district would use base children exclusively to meet desegregation plans or to solve capacity problems, thus alleviating the need to use community children for the same purposes. Some parents assert that this has occurred in the past and at least one district supervisor indicated he would bus base students rather than local children to avoid voter complaints. Base parents have little political power in the local community.
  • Base parents are concerned that Impact Aid funds, received by the local communities for the education of base children, will be used for other educational purposes. This is possible due to the discretionary nature of the funds.

The Coburn and Warner amendments reflect unwise public policy.  Eliminating DoD schools would harm our nation’s military families who already sacrifice so much, while placing additional burdens on local public schools that are already struggling.  We urge your opposition to both of these amendments.

Sincerely,

Kim Anderson
Director, Center for Advocacy

Mary Kusler
Manager of Federal Advocacy