Military base closures happen for all sorts of reasons. One of those reasons, which is expected to play a large role in the upcoming closure debate, may be the quality of education that local communities offer to soldiers’ children.
A new report released by the Stimson Center on Thursday notes that military installations, and accompanying wages provided to soldiers, are a major source of economic activity for local communities. Out of a total of 19 bases analyzed, ten contribute about a third of all local income, and four contribute over 50 percent. All 19 produce a minimum of 15 cents for every dollar earned in the community.
If military leadership starts to take the quality of education into account when making decisions about base closures, economic activity in communities with low-quality schools might be jeopardized.
According to Matthew Leatherman, a non-resident fellow at the Stimson Center and author of the report, school quality is precisely what has grabbed the attention of Army leadership recently.
“General Odierno, the current Chief of Staff of the Army, made the statement that the Army is focusing on education and intends to factor it into force structure decisions. So, you’re hearing from the leadership that this is important and they want to make decisions on that basis,” Leatherman told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
In October 2013, General Raymond Odierno commented at a family forum that if governors and congressmen want the military to remain in their communities, “they better start paying attention to the schools that are outside and inside our installations.”
The report notes several problems with many of the local schools. Over 300,000 children of active-duty servicemembers in the Army are affected by educational standards which vary wildly from one school to the next. Every two to three years, servicemembers receive moving orders, meaning that military families move 2.5 times more than civilian families. Over the course of 20 years, troops have likely switched duty stations six times.
For retired Maj. Gen. James “Spider” Marks, there’s unlikely to be a significant causal relationship between quality of education and the decision of an enlistee to enter the military, but a few years down the road, education quality and standards become much more important to personnel and can impact service retention rates.
“If soldiers don’t see education being as consistent or as high-quality as they expect, that may factor in to how they perceive the value of their compensation and whether they choose to stay in the force longer,” Leatherman told TheDCNF.
In 2012, the Pentagon decided to adopt Common Core standards to help solve these problems, but many states home to Army bases have been reluctant to follow suit.
“I firmly believe in Common Core and I understand the challenges,” Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Marks, who served as commanding general of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center, told TheDCNF. “But what drives me crazy is that school boards have this loud voice, and you often don’t have the very best representation of the overall issues.”
“Our education system is fundamentally flawed because it focuses on the needs of the educator and not the needs of the children,” Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Marks added. “It’s all about the teachers’ unions. Let’s talk about the student. The discussion through Common Core has changed that focus and its moving it in the appropriate direction.”
The base closure debate will continue, and the outcome is not yet settled.
As the report notes, “Just as hosts have some work to do in response to the Army’s ideas on education, the Army will have to work hard to get Congress’ authorization to factor education into basing decisions.”
These communities still have time to improve or adopt new educational standards before Congress even has a chance to look over base realignment proposals.
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