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Proposal to improve military 'brat' education

Will facilitate multi-state learning
March 3, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Leonor Chavez, the wife of a Navy doctor, doesn't worry about her daughter having to change schools every few years. It's the paperwork that bothers her. "Every county's different. Every state's different. Every school's different," said Chavez, whose husband now works at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. "Paperwork's what daunts me the most. She can adjust pretty quickly."

Legislation under consideration in Maryland and dozens of other states is intended to ease the transition for students like Chavez's 11-year-old daughter, who started a new school in a new state this year.

Military "brats" change schools an average of six to nine times between kindergarten and 12th grade. A proposed multistate compact supported by the Pentagon is aimed at reducing the complications involved.

"The one thing we continuously forget to address is the sacrifices our children are forced to make," said Rear Adm. Len Hering, commander of the Navy's Southwest region.

Hering moved to San Diego from Annapolis as his middle son entered his senior year. The transition to California tested the whole family, Hering recalled.

His son hoped to take Advanced Placement courses in chemistry and calculus; instead the boy had to waste school hours repeating physical education and state history courses usually taught to freshmen. California was the third state in which he attended high school, and he had to take three classes in basic state history.

"He was denied AP Calculus and AP Chemistry. He took badminton with 9th graders and a third history course," Hering said.

Pentagon supporters say the multistate agreement would help the armed forces: difficulties uprooting children are cited as a major reason people leave active duty.

"Military families consider the quality of their children's education to be one of their primary quality-of-life concerns," said Leslye A. Arsht, the Pentagon's deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy.

The compact, which would take effect after 10 states approve it, would direct participating states to cut red tape for children of active-duty service members.

States receiving military transfers would have to accept temporary transcripts for class placement until official records are received. Children who don't meet local vaccination requirements could be enrolled with a short grace period until they get their shots.

Membership in honor societies such as Beta Club would be honored, and state-specific exit exams required for high school graduation could be waived or substituted for tests taken in another state. The compact would also address a top complaint of military kids: the requirements that they take basic state history courses in every new state.

Educators are pushing for the compact, too. Though military dependents have always had to change schools frequently, the growth of state-specific exit exams and requirements makes transferring schools more difficult now.

"We have students from all different kinds of systems with all different kinds of requirements," said William Harrison, superintendent of schools in Cumberland County, N.C., home of Fort Bragg. About 13,000 students in Harrison's schools have parents on active duty, and Harrison said handling transfers is a major task.

"There are 50 sets of requirements out there, and every state thinks theirs are the highest and the best, and they need to acknowledge they need to work for people serving our country," Harrison said.

At least 24 state legislatures are considering some version of the agreement. But obstacles remain for politicians worried about ceding state authority.

"They were concerned about some of the language in the compact, that it might be giving up some state sovereignty," said Virginia Delegate Mark Cole, a Navy veteran who sponsored the compact in his state. The Virginia House adopted the compact, but it failed in the Senate last week.

Some states aren't waiting for the compact and are also considering legislation to waive requirements unilaterally for military kids moving into the state. Missouri House members are considering a bill waiving a requirement that service members' children take a test on the Missouri constitution.

 

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