Military Children Feel Impact of Budget Uncertainty
March 25, 2013
April is the Month of the Military Child; a time to recognize and appreciate military children who also serve and make sacrifices. The irony is that, after 11 years of war, separation, and hardship, this April is a time of increased stress caused by the budget uncertainty. We now have leaders who, rather than finding solutions supportive of predictability for children, are allowing a climate of uncertainty to prevail. There are over 2 million children with parents who are serving in our military —yet for each child it is personal and individual. A Marine parent shared his child’s lament, “Dad, you’ve been gone half my life!” Haven’t military kids sacrificed enough? This child and all military families need to know that schools have what they need to serve them and their civilian classmates.
Military kids are just kids, but much as been asked of them from an early age. Most of them are in grades K-12. School professionals are essential to them and their parents—part of a convoy of support. We are asking that policy leaders come together now and support military-connected students by providing lasting, positive solutions which prevent rolling harm caused by cuts to education dollars. Class sizes, special programs and services, and instructional time are all impacted. There are no do-overs when it comes to kids.
Every school district in America has military-connected children and youth. Over 80% of military-connected children attend U.S. public schools, and less than 8 % attend Department of Defense schools. These children live with the perpetual challenges presented by frequent moves, parental deployments, and a host of life transitions including reintegration and dealing with profoundly changed parents. In their own way, military-connected children serve alongside their military parents. Approximately 12 % of these children have amplified challenges associated with special needs. The well-being of all military-connected children and youth depends heavily on a strong, consistent network of supportive adults and, most especially, educators. Teachers, mentors, and role models play a pivotal role in the future of all children, especially the military child.
The education experience of the children should not suffer due to the inability of our Congress and the Administration to come together and agree upon a sensible budget plan. Children should not be made to suffer the unintended consequences of indecision. Though there are differing opinions about the fiscal crisis and the impact on education, there are looming and mounting certainties destined to occur unless solutions are achieved. The vast majority of military families move in the summer due to a military reassignment. The beginning and end of the school year are some of the most challenging times, and school transitions add to the lack of predictability. We must act now!
Plans are being made for the 2013-14 school year, but how can anyone effectively plan in the current environment? This is where the erosion of services and support hits the local schools and classrooms. Key federal programs that support all children who need additional support such as Title 1 and special education (IDEA) are in the reduction scenarios. Most public school districts are already well into the process of drafting budgets and making plans for the coming school year. They need to know what their funding will look like- hiring and staffing decisions and commitments need to be made now. The majority of school district funding is spent on personnel, so staff cuts or layoffs and increased teacher/pupil ratios are fairly certain. For over 600 districts receiving Impact Aid, significant hits compound an already challenging scenario. Further reductions could come if added to any state and local budget constraints. Ron Walker, School Superintendent for Geary County, Kansas, home to Fort Riley and the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, feels the frustration of knowing schools have done their part in planning for next year, yet now the sequestration severely compounds the pressure already placed on his budget. He is pessimistic about Congress correcting the situation. Dr. Robert Muller, Superintendent of the Killeen Independent School District, Killeen, Texas, leads a district serving over 25,000 military-connected students of their 41,000-plus student population. “I believe that there is recognition that creating and sustaining high quality learning experiences for students requires resources,” said Dr. Muller, continuing, “At this time, there is great uncertainty with respect to funding public education. I am optimistic that this uncertainty will disappear over the next few months.” John Forkenbrock from the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools (NAFIS) reports that school districts are already considering going to four day school weeks with longer days in order to save money. The Department of Defense schools (DoDEA) are working hard to mitigate the potential harm to their over 84,000 students because of staff furlough potential and significant budget cuts.
Consider that children, who have personally experienced the implications of more than a decade of war, rely on the predictability of schools, after-school and summer programs. They deserve to have schools with the capacity to provide instruction and resources to meet their needs.
The Military Child Education Coalition ® (MCEC®) asks that our nation’s political leaders, regardless of party affiliation, consider the kids. The current sequestration cuts will impact the education of the over 1.2 million military-connected children who are in grades K-12. We ask our lawmakers to consider working together in a bipartisan way toward achieving a well thought-out Federal budget plan.
In keeping with its mission to ensure quality educational opportunities for our country’s military-connected children, the Military Child Education Coalition applauds all efforts that will strengthen our national security and our global competitiveness by providing for the future of our children through a quality education.
Founded in 1998, the Military Child Education Coalition® (MCEC®) is a 501(c)(3) global, nonprofit leadership and advocacy organization focused on ensuring quality educational opportunities for America’s two million military-connected children affected by mobility, family separation, and transition. For more information, visit www.MilitaryChild.org.