Many Army posts around the country have dodged a major hit — for now. While some installations absorb a recently announced reduction of 40,000 soldiers, service leaders warn that more cuts could be on the horizon.

If local communities want to hedge against future cuts to local bases and installations, they should pay very close attention to the quality of schools in and around military installations, because the Army certainly is.

“The quality of public schools near some military bases has been an issue for military families, and the subject of a number of studies, for decades,” the Military Times recently noted.

But what makes this a renewed focus is that it is coming from the very top. Gen. Ray Odierno, then the Army chief of staff, put the quality of education for the children of Army troops front and center. Odierno warned that the performance of local schools will be a major consideration in the placement of Army units around the country.

Driving home the point, the Army commissioned a study to examine the quality of schools that serve the children of soldiers.

The researchers concluded that it is impossible to determine how schools are faring relative to schools outside their state — because the country lacks nationwide education standards to allow that comparison.

Some states with a large Army presence have adopted education standards that have resulted in schools that perform well, according to a report by the Stimson Center, a Washington, D.C., think tank. “Other communities with equal economic dependency on the Army are challenged by less rigorous academic standards at the state level or inadequate performance at the school and district levels.”

Military communities have plenty to lose if they can’t provide high quality education for the children of service members. Nineteen Army posts contribute at least 15 percent of the total income of their host counties. In six counties, the Army generated 50 percent or more of every dollar earned.

“If host communities do not offer soldiers’ children a consistently high-quality education, they risk the economic challenges that result from losing support of a major employer,” said the Stimson report.

The consensus is that another base closing round will get the green light from Congress in the near future. But in the meantime, the military will be making periodic — and sometimes significant — cuts to its forces, with the quality of local education certain to be a consideration.

In an effort to blunt possible cuts, local communities and local schools should take action to forge closer relationships with military units in their communities by:

Partnering military units and surrounding schools. Local schools and military units can “adopt” one another. Units can host field days or career days for younger students. This will expose students to new ideas and increase installation-community relations.

Engaging local lawmakers. Congressional representatives should reinforce to state legislators and executives that education is a top issue for military families. Those families create an economic impact, and if service members choose not to move their families from post to post because of a poor school system, that is lost revenue for a community.

Incentivizing educators. Encouraging experienced educators (teachers, counselors, administrators) to come to a community and stay provides consistency for students and creates institutional knowledge, which can be priceless for military-connected students who require additional attention due to deployments.

The Army has done an admirable job in raising the issue of the importance of education to service families. The Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy have an equally strong stake. Education is the top quality-of-life issue for military families, regardless of the uniform the parent wears.

If schools around installations have an impetus to improve, if state and local governments fear the potential for dire economic consequences, it may prompt them to take a serious look at fixing their schools.

Jim Cowen is director of military outreach at the Collaborative for Student Success, an Alexandria, Va.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to raising education standards. Tim Ford is president of the Association of Defense Communities, which represents 200 communities, states and regions with a significant military presence, and partner organizations.



Shared from San Antonio Express-News.