Teachers and parents in a far-flung school system overseen by the Department of Defense, worried that the future of the stateside system is threatened, are fighting to preserve their schools.
The source of their concern? Congressional leaders and the Department of Defense Education Activity, a civilian agency within the department, are planning a study to examine the costs of operating 58 of its 69 schools in the United States.
Located on or adjacent to military bases, the schools serve the children of military families. Studies have shown above-average performance by students on standardized tests and a narrowing of the achievement gap between minority and white students at the schools. Despite that record of success, officials say it’s important to know the costs involved.
“It’s just additional information we should have. It’s one of the many things to be taken into consideration,” said Patricia Lambe, a spokeswoman for the Department of Defense Education Activity. Ms. Lambe stressed that the department had decided on its own to do the study and not in response to outside pressure. She said the study was expected to begin this summer and would take about a year.
But Congress, too, wants to know the costs involved. Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio, who chairs the House Military Construction Appropriations Subcommittee, agrees on the need for such a study, which will examine potential savings from closing the school buildings. The study will not look at the schools in Guam and Puerto Rico.
“We just have a lot less money to work with and a lot more demands with regard to our military infrastructure,” said Chris Galm, a spokesman for Mr. Hobson. “We’re just reviewing everything.”
But Mr. Galm said people shouldn’t worry that the study is a precursor to shutting down the Domestic Dependent Elementary and Secondary Schools, a system put in place after the end of World War II to educate military children in the United States. The schools are divided into 11 districts, with a total of 2,614 teachers and 32,523 students.
The Pentagon also has a parallel system, the Department of Defense Dependents Schools, which operates 155 schools overseas. Those schools are not candidates for possible closure.
Mr. Galm said that the study was part of an information-gathering process and that Mr. Hobson’s subcommittee wouldn’t have jurisdiction over closing schools.
More Than Dollars
But those who prize the schools aren’t taking chances. The Washington-based Federal Education Association has called for a letter-writing campaign and is encouraging its members to get in touch with politicians.
Congress “just wants to look at the financial viability of the system,” said Gary Hritz, a spokesman for the FEA, an affiliate of the National Education Association that represents teachers and aides at DOD schools “There’s more to it than finances.”
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that if all 69 schools were closed, the Defense Department could save a total of $1.5 billion by 2010. However, about $1.1 billion of that amount would have to be paid in the form of “impact aid” to local schools for the additional students they would need to serve. Impact aid is money paid to school districts because military facilities are generally not subject to property taxes.
The department-run system’s students performed above the national average on the 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress test in mathematics and well above the national average in science, according to a February 2002 report by the department’s K-12 education arm. Black and Hispanic students overall scored at or near the top of the scoring scale in math and science, a showing that contrasted favorably with with that of their peers in other school systems.
Caroline Myers, an instructional-support teacher at McBride Elementary School at Fort Benning, Ga., said such schools know how to give students from military families what they need. Ms. Myers has been teaching at McBride for 26 years.
If the DOD school system were scrapped, students “would miss a faculty and a school system that is dedicated to their needs,” Ms. Myers said.
A version of this article appeared in the June 05, 2002 edition of Education Week as DOD Studying Costs Of Domestic Base Schools