Military Moves and Education Changes
When Col. Mark Needham began studies at Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., in 2004, he left his family behind in Virginia.
It wasn’t a choice he relished, but his daughter was a senior in high school and Needham didn’t want her to face the many issues children of the military deal with in transitioning to different schools.
“So many military families split themselves in the senior year,” Needham, now retired, said.
Needham, like many others, hope the new Interstate Commission on Educational Opportunity for Military Children will keep families from yet another split because of a parent’s service in the military.
“Maybe this compact will prevent some of that because we were already being split enough at deployment,” said Needham. “The mother or father or both are away enough at deployments that we don’t need to split them because of crazy transition requirements.”
Needham is the executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs and represents the state on the Interstate Commission on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, which governs the compact that has been implemented by 26 states in the last two years. Those 26 states cover 80 percent of the military impacted students, according to Cheryl L. Serrano, the chair of the commission from Colorado.
With 25,075 students with active duty military parents, Kentucky enthusiastically embraced the compact, and has strived to ensure it’s not just a compact on paper.
That requires training.
While more than half the states have adopted the compact, the need now is to educate school districts, principals and counselors about the compact’s requirements. Not everyone in local districts is aware of the rules. Needham, for instance, found that the director of Kentucky’s high school athletic association wasn’t aware of the rules. The compact wants to ensure students of military families who arrive at a school after tryouts get the chance to join a team. The association changed its rules to adhere to the contract after Needham explained the compact.
Athletic participation is just one aspect of the compact. It addresses things such as requirements for high school graduation, transfer of school records, participation in extracurricular activities and entrance requirements for kindergarten and first grade—all of which can create roadblocks when families move from one state to another.
“It is the commission’s goal to continue assisting those families by making the transition for students as smooth as possible,” said Crady deGolian, a policy analyst with The Council of State Governments’ National Center for Interstate Compacts, which assisted with the formation of the compact and its commission. The commission in November adopted permanent rules aimed at easing the transition for military impacted students.
But people in education need to understand those rules. Kentucky, the second state to adopt the compact by only a few hours behind Kansas, also developed a video with parents and children from Fort Knox and Fort Campbell—the state’s two military bases—discussing their transition problems in an effort to spread the word about the compact. Legislators, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and Needham explain what schools must do to adhere to the compact. Needham and the state’s military education liaison—Christine Powell—also are available to talk with school officials throughout the state to explain the compact.
That’s a key, say school officials of districts adjacent to the large military installations. The districts in Hardin County, home to Fort Knox, and Christian County, near Fort Campbell, have long been involved in easing the transition of military students, officials there said.
“It really hasn’t impacted us a great deal because we’ve always had a great working relationship with Fort Knox,” said Bobby Lewis, Hardin County’s assistant superintendent for student services.
But Lewis points out that Fort Knox lies within a half hour drive from many counties and school districts that may not deal with the needs of military families as often as his district does. Compact efforts help with that.
“This informs those school districts that maybe don’t deal with the military as much, ‘hey, this is how to help them (families) out and make the transition easier,” he said.
The story is much the same in Christian County, where Assistant Superintendent Jamie Tomek also serves as liaison to the Military Coalition for Education Children for her school district. “If students are making smooth transitions, then they’re quicker to settle in and start learning,” Tomek said. “There are no emotional barriers.”
The biggest impact from the compact, Tomek said, is a provision that allows students to miss up to 10 days when parents are deployed or return from deployment. The districts don’t lose state average daily attendance—or ADA—funding for two of those days, she said. Before the compact, districts would lose all that ADA money, she said.
The compact is still in the formation process; commission officers were elected, permanent rules were adopted, and a search committee for an executive director for the compact was formed at the November meeting. But the law is in place in those 26 states, and school districts could unknowingly violate the law without proper training, said Needham.
In Kentucky, for one, school districts that are members of the Kentucky School Boards Association updated policies incorporating the compact rules in 2008, according to an article in the October 2008 Kentucky School Advocate, a publication of the association.
Needham, the state’s commissioner, believes training and education will be an ongoing process.
“Teachers change. Administrators change. And you need to remind your educational leadership in the state—and to the extent that you can, military parents—that the compact is out there, it exists and here is what it was meant to do,” he said.