From the Springfield (MO) News-Leader
Today there are 1.2 million school-aged children of active-duty military personnel in the United States. Most of these are younger children, and two out of five are younger than six.
It is highly possible that the number of active-duty military personnel will increase under Trump administration leadership, by at least 125,000 service members according to recent reports. Offering high-quality educational opportunities is becoming increasingly essential for retaining skilled and experienced personnel to support our military readiness, according to a new Lexington Institute report, Better Serving Those Who Serve: Improving the Educational Opportunities of Military-Connected Students.
Most of Missouri’s nearly 15,000 active-duty military personnel are connected with Fort Leonard Wood or Whiteman Air Force Base. Their children generally attend a public school on base, in the adjacent school district, or in a nearby school district if their family has that preference and flexibility.
For military families, who are often required to move to five or six different school districts by the time their children graduate high school because of changing deployments, their satisfaction with the quality of their children’s education has become a major factor in deciding how long to continue their military careers. This means education has implications for our nation’s military readiness.
In a new survey of military families conducted by Military Times, more than one in three reported that dissatisfaction with their children’s education would be a significant factor in deciding whether or not to continue their military careers. Almost half said they were prepared to turn down a career-advancing job at a different installation if the schools were better at their current assignment, if they had that opportunity.
For kids that are already adjusting to new schools, friends and homes, these challenges add up. Schools in different districts can use very different systems when it comes to grading policies or support services.
Even when they do land in a school they feel is the right match for their children’s needs, moves between states can create even more complications for these students because different content is taught in different sequences. “When they move to attend school in a different state, they will often either be required to relearn content they have already mastered, or enter classes far behind their peers on other content,” explains Missouri’s governor-appointed Military Advocate Joseph L. Driskill.
Indeed, moving between states added challenges to their children’s education for seventy percent of military families in the Military Times poll.
Fourth-grade students in the Missouri school districts with the largest military-connected student populations consistently performed above state averages in reading, although math proficiency in two of those – Waynesville and Warrensburg – fell below Missouri averages at the eighth grade level.
Waynesville’s high school students, as part of a National Math and Science Initiative program, have led Missouri in increases in qualifying scores on Advanced Placement exams in math, science and English over the past two years.
Both state and school district policies impact the quality of education choices, and they vary greatly between jurisdictions. For example, Missouri does not have the open enrollment laws utilized in some states, requiring families to use schools in the district where they live – a form of flexibility some military families might find valuable.
Missouri’s military families are fortunate that both Fort Leonard Wood’s Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Kent D. Savre, and Whiteman Air Force Base’s Commanding General Brig. Gen. Paul W. Tibbets IV, and their wives, are also leaders who actively involve themselves in supporting the education needs of their base communities. The strong communication they work to maintain with school district leaders creates a valuable two-way flow of information important to addressing education needs.
Another effective mechanism for addressing and supporting education needs is through the work of Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, including its state commissions. Missouri’s commission is headed by Waynesville’s dynamic superintendent Dr. Brian Henry, whose work in this role would benefit from broader membership and more frequent, substantive meetings.
As Missouri’s decisionmakers pursue opportunities to strengthen educational offerings for all students, addressing the specific needs of this important population holds benefits not only for educational purposes, but for military readiness as well.
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