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Trump Emergency Declaration Could Endanger Aid for School Projects on Military Bases

By Alyson Klein — February 20, 2019 3 min read
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More than $500 million in funding for construction projects at schools serving the children of military personnel could be in jeopardy, thanks to President Donald Trump’s move to declare a national emergency and shift some $8 billion allocated to defense construction and other purposes to build a wall along the southern border with Mexico.

That’s according to an analysis of military construction projects circulated by the House Appropriations Committee, which is controlled by Democrats. The list of potentially impacted projects includes turning the former Fort Campbell High School in Fort Campbell, Ky., into a new middle school. Construction projects at schools on military bases in Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom could also be affected.

For its part, the Trump administration has said it will divert roughly $3.6 billion from military construction to wall construction, but it has not yet identified which projects would be affected.

“At this time, no decisions have been made regarding specific projects funded [by the most recent military construction spending bill],” said Lt. Col. Carla M. Gleason, a Pentagon spokeswoman in an email.

When asked about the potentially delayed Fort Campbell project, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a Trump administration ally, defended the president’s move.

“It would be better for middle school kids in Kentucky to have a secure border,” he said in an interview on ABC’s Face the Nation Sunday. “We’ll get them the school they need.”

Construction on the new Fort Campbell Middle School—actually a refurbished version of the former Fort Campbell High School—was supposed to be completed in time for the start of the 2020-21 school year. The Defense Department has allocated more than $62 million for the project, according to the congressional analysis. The new building will serve students from the former Wassom Middle School, which closed before the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, according to the Federal Education Association, a National Education Association affiliate that represents Defense Department teachers.

For now, the students slated to attend the new Fort Campbell Middle have been crammed into Mahaffey Middle School, which is old and in need of renovations, the FEA says. Many Mahaffey teachers use mobile carts and don’t have a dedicated teaching space, and some classrooms can’t be entered without going through other classrooms.

“Politicians’ statements that these military dependents will eventually get the new school they desperately need ring hollow,” said Gary Hritz, a spokesman for the FEA. “These students and their families sacrifice enough. They should not be asked to sacrifice their learning environment any longer.”

The school did not respond to a request for comment.

It’s not clear if Trump will ultimately be allowed to divert the military construction funding for the wall. Sixteen states, lead by California, are suing the administration over the move. And Democrats in Congress are also seeking to block it. The issue is likely to be tied up in courts, possibly for months or more.

It’s also not clear from the congressional analysis whether the schools on foreign military bases that could be impacted are new construction projects or refurbishments of existing buildings. (The amount of money involved is in keeping with new construction.)

The list includes:

  • Bechtel Elementary School in Japan - $94.8 million
  • Clay Kaserne Elementary School in Germany - $56 million
  • Croughton Elem/Middle/High School Replacement in the United Kingdom - $71.4 million
  • Kaiserslautern Middle School in Germany - $99.9 million
  • Kadena Elementary School in Japan - $84.9 million
  • Kinnick High School in Japan - $40 million

President Donald Trump turns back to the audience after speaking during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House Feb. 15 to declare a national emergency in order to build a wall along the southern border. --Susan Walsh/AP

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