We’re Not Even Spending Enough to Educate Our Service Members’ Children

Between 2002 and 2008, USAID spent $408 million on schools in Afghanistan. A significant chunk of $857 went to Iraqi education in the first several years after invasion.

Yet as American service men and women have been overseas protecting these school building projects, their own children’s schools have been neglected.

The Pentagon has placed 39 percent of its 194 schools in the worst category of “failing,” which means it costs more to renovate than replace them, reports to Congress show . Another 37 percent are classified in “poor” physical shape, which could require either replacement or expensive renovations to meet standards. (See the full list of poor and failing schools here)

Schools run by public systems on Army installations don’t fare much better: 39 percent fall in the failing or poor categories, according to a 2010 Army report .

A Defense Department task force is evaluating the 159 military base schools operated by local public systems.

Not surprisingly, the school conditions–as well as the special needs that arise from having parents gone for extended periods–has contributed to declining performance.

At specific schools, principals said the impact on academic performance is unmistakable. Vern Steffens, who heads Fort Riley’s Jefferson Elementary School, which already has a “poor” rating for its deterioration, said he worried about low test scores as well. He noted that as the proportion of students with a deployed parent rose over the last two years, from 23 percent to 41 percent, reading test proficiency rates plummeted 23 percentage points.

Because of that drop, in 2010, Jefferson did not make what’s known as “adequate yearly progress,” a measurement of how well schools are meeting standards required under the No Child Left Behind Act. At the time of state testing, 2,800 soldiers in the post’s Combat Aviation Brigade were in the process of deploying — including 175 parents at a school with 349 students.

“They were focused on their dads leaving,” said Steffens, not on tests.

DOD knows this is a problem. But Congress has not funded DOD’s plan to fix it (to say nothing of funding the public schools that serve bases but are funded locally).

Over the past decade, as the nation waged two wars, annual military spending skyrocketed 150 percent to $729 billion while money for the military’s schools has risen less quickly — about 50 percent, to $1.9 billion. Money for school construction has amounted to even less, an average $81 million annually from 2001 to 2010 — barely the cost of a RQ-4 Global Hawk reconnaissance vehicle, the latest “drone” used by the U.S. Air Force. That’s only enough money to replace two of the more than 130 substandard schools each year. At that rate, it would take 67 years to replace or renovate all 134 poor and failing schools. By then, of course, there’d be more of them.

Last August, the Defense Department’s education agency unveiled a plan that could take up to seven years to replace or renovate its failing and poor schoolhouses — at $3.7 billion. “Military personnel already make a lot of sacrifices,” said Fitzgerald, the acting director, explaining the Defense Department’s “good news” investment. “What the department is trying to do is to make sure their children are not sacrificed as well.”

But Congress has committed only $484 million for the current fiscal year, enough to repair or replace 10 schools.


Meanwhile, the government each year spends another relatively small amount, $30 million, on “impact aid” for public schools with students whose parents work in the military.

It’s bad enough that we’re not even taking care of these kids while their parents serve. It’s bad enough that we’re not making a special effort for the kids struggling with their parents’ multiple deployments.

But the military remains one of the few remaining routes through which working class families can break into the middle class. Yet if, by joining the military, service members consign their kids to inadequate schooling, even military service won’t help their kids achieve a middle class lifestyle.

At some point, funding our empire over funding our country will become unsustainable, even for those policing our empire.

9 replies
  1. EH says:

    If the soldiers’ families can break into the middle class, they’ll be less likely to become soldiers. The DoD has a conflict of interest here: “Keep Our Soldiers Stupid.”

  2. emptywheel says:

    @EH: YEah, but that’s assuming they stick with their expanding empire lower standards for military recruitment. Perhaps a safe assumption, but still.

    Actually, the article notes that John McCain–who argued that this generation couldn’t have a GI bill bc it would mean they’d leave the military–also argued against some of the funding to fix this. It’s not in DOD’s core competency says the guy who has been supported by the military his entire life.

  3. rugger9 says:

    What the MOTUs don’t understand is a lesson that Vietnam in particular taught us, and why the US has all-volunteer services: soldiers who don’t want to be there don’t fight well, especially when they see clearly that it’s a crass occupation for political /economic reasons. It’s no accident that most of these are chickenhawks.

    The other is that the first thing any leader is taught in any service is to take care of their troops. Service members worried about losing their homes to foreclosure, whether their kids are safe, whether the family will be supported if they are killed, etc., above and beyond the standard issue Dear John letters are distracted and do not keep the mission in view. Recall how Bu$h didn’t want to raise the death benefit at the beginning of the Iraq War because it was too expensive, it was about 12,000 dollars then, it’s 100 k$ now, only because the WH still had shame then. Even in peace time, soldiers and sailors get killed, on average 4 die every naval deployment in a battle group from various causes because dangerous things are being done with dangerous tools.

  4. Sojourner says:

    Talking generalities, but trying to run the military and our schools as businesses is a disaster. As I recall, Rumsfeld took the idea that he could make some major cuts in military spending and accomplish the same thing. Of course, our military personnel and their familiar are the ones who have borne the brunt of that…

    Then there is No Child Left Behind which is sucking school budgets dry! At least in early elementary education, there is no way that you can make all kids perform at the same level! My ex- wife finally gave up and took early retirement because she was so fed up with the NCLB “standards” and the lack of funding.

    Maybe it has some good principles, but NCLB has been worthless overall because most school districts do not have the funding to meet the standards.

    Anyway, good post — just another example of how we, the people, and those who would protect us overseas, are being short-changed.

  5. num#zup says:

    Thanks for the links to the continuing unaccountable story. Sick outside the warrior nation, we see and suffer; but now me knows their families suffer inside. A young person’s Escape Route Nation, redeploys their reality, a transformed soldier. As a populaton, why would a species reproduce in these conditons?

  6. Bill Michtom says:

    “just another example of how we, the people, and those who would protect us overseas, are being short-changed.”

    Lest we forget, they are not protecting us overseas, just made to believe (at least at first) that they are.

  7. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    I could comment for hours on tales that I’ve heard from teachers about traumatized kids of military parents, to say nothing of the overworked, exhausted (heroic) parents covering the home front.


Comments are closed.