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Effectiveness of DOD school funding questioned

STUTTGART, Germany — Though the Defense Department provides millions of dollars to support military dependent students in American public schools, the effectiveness of such supplemental spending is unknown since much of the money goes unaccounted for, according to a new Government Accountability Office report.

Even less is known about the academic performance of military dependents in those public schools, according to the GAO, which recommends closer monitoring of grades of pupils whose frequent family moves make them difficult to track.

“Currently, school districts and states are not required to collect academic achievement data for military dependent students, as they are for certain other groups of students, including economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities,” the Government Accountability Office wrote in a report released Monday. “Without these data, stakeholders lack critical information that could help them better understand the specific needs of these students and their educational outcomes over time.”

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Children with parents in the military face unique challenges that could affect their performance in schools, such as frequent moves and the stress of having a parent deployed to a war zone , according to the GAO.

The researchers found that a significant number of students at school districts getting DOD supplemental funding have emotional problems that pose classroom challenges. Officials in 24 percent of the 87 school districts in the survey said behavioral issues in the classroom, such as aggression — which may be attributable to frequent moves and parent deployment — were “extremely” or “very” challenging, the GAO reported. An additional 31 percent said they were moderately challenged.

“In one school district in Virginia, approximately 60 percent of students who started at a school are no longer there at graduation,” the GAO said. “Officials in this district found that frequent moves are a significant hindrance to the academic and emotional success of military dependent students.”

The GAO is recommending that leaders at the Department of Education and Defense Department determine whether to require districts to identify military dependents as a subgroup for reporting on their academic outcomes, including test scores and graduation rates.

“This should include determining whether the Department of Education needs to obtain any additional legislative authority for this requirement, and seeking it from Congress, if necessary,” the GAO reported.

In response to the report, the Department of Education said states and school districts that receive DOD supplemental funds will be required to report on the achievement of military dependents.

There are about 1.1 million school-age students in the U.S. with parents in the armed forces, and the majority attend public schools. The challenges of serving that community are expected to grow as base realignments and changes to the global force structure are expected to add about 120,000 military and DOD civilian personnel to U.S. military installations by September, according to the GAO.

While educators should look for better ways to assess performance, a closer accounting of Defense Department programs that assist these students also is needed. So-called “Impact Aid,” totaling about $342 million since fiscal year 2002, is intended to help ensure that school districts with significant numbers of military dependents have additional funds to maintain educational standards, according to the GAO.

“… But the outcomes and effectiveness of their activities are difficult to assess,” the GAO said. “This is due in part to the structure of the DOD Impact Aid program, which does not require any reporting on the use of the funds.”

When asked how the DOD school funds are spent, districts reported using it for everything from teacher salaries, supplies and transportation to heating and cooling systems and other school building improvements.

The Defense Department and other organizations “lack appropriate data to monitor the progress of military dependent students and the effectiveness of the schools and programs serving them,” the GAO said.

For the entire report, go to www.gao.gov/new.items/d11231.pdf

vandiverj@estripes.osd.mil

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