The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is in the midst of transforming our military to better address the needs and demands of the 21st century. In keeping with these goals, a number of bases across the nation are experiencing an enhancement of mission, an increase in training activity and defense operations, and an expansion in troop numbers through programs including Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), Global Rebasing, “Grow the Force,” Joint Basing, as well as other force structure changes. As a result of this “mission growth,” the surrounding communities and the states hosting these installations are undergoing significant and rapid expansion. The level of growth that bases are projected to experience has not been seen since WWII, with some states expecting to gain tens of thousands of new residents.
As this military transition moves forward, states and Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) will face significant challenges associated with educating the children of our military men and women. Approximately 75,000 military dependent students will relocate to new schools by 2011 as a result of BRAC alone, creating an influx of students in some states. However, this number is understated since it does not include other mission growth initiatives as well as potential increases in dependents of military contractors that may relocate to communities experiencing mission growth.
Depending on the military base, the number of incoming students can range anywhere from the single digits to several thousand. With most of these students expected to enroll in public schools, states and communities experiencing growth must prepare adequate classroom space and educational services for incoming students in advance of their arrival. However, in many communities, the current school infrastructure simply does not have the capacity to absorb the large and rapid influxes of militarily connected students that they will be responsible for educating.
Significant infrastructure investments will be required in advance of the anticipated expansions. Unfortunately, traditional state and local funding sources are not sufficient to cope with such large-scale and rapid expansions. Consequently, states and communities are experiencing difficulty in absorbing the influx of these militarily connected students.
The children of our military men and women and DoD civilian employees face a host of challenges growing up, including frequent school transfers as well as having one, or both, of their parents deployed. Military families deserve to have their children receive a quality education in facilities that are healthy, safe and of adequate size. However, the window to prepare adequate educational facilities for the ongoing relocation of thousands of military students is rapidly narrowing. Without quick action to address this crucial issue, communities and states will struggle to meet the needs of militarily connected students.
Currently, federal resources to offset new education costs associated with mission growth are inadequate for states and schools. The federal government has not established a coordinated and systematic process to assist states or LEAs. Instead, states and LEAs are being directed to a patchwork of federal funding sources, none of which is designed to specifically assist schools experiencing the kind of mission growth currently underway. In a June 2008 report the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that a lack of high-level leadership by DoD has made it difficult for community and state officials to effectively plan for and provide necessary infrastructure to accommodate DOD personnel and their families relocating to growth impacted communities.
This paper summarizes the challenges and limited federal options available to states and schools to meet the pending school facilities needs.
- GAO Report: DEFENSE INFRASTRUCTURE - High-Level Leadership Needed to Help Communities Address Challenges Caused by DoD-Related Growth
- DoD Report: Update to the Report on Assistance to Local Educational Agencies for Defense Dependents Education March 2008
- DoD Table: DoD Projected Military Growth by State
- Mission Growth Related Federal Programs Funding Chart