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ARLINGTON, Va. — Soldiers facing a European tour are starting to leave their spouses and children in the States, where they have choices for quality education, rather than take them to U.S. European Command, where schools are vastly underfunded, according to Army Gen. John Craddock.

Craddock, the EUCOM commander, told a House Appropriations subcommittee Thursday that the issue is not that Europe’s school teachers are under par.

“Department of Defense Schools Europe has done a very good job in the last several years, [with] faculty enrichment,” Craddock said. The Europe schools have “pretty good teachers.”

Instead, Craddock said, families who have children in middle- or high-school are worried about the lack of Advanced Placement classes, extracurricular activities, and aging facilities that will place their children at a competitive disadvantage when it comes time to apply to college.

As a result, he said, “what we’re starting to see [is that] instead of coming as a family unit, mom and the kids stay home, because they know … what they have, and they don’t want to take a chance that the children are handicapped where they’re going.”

Craddock said he didn’t have any hard numbers to back up his claims, “but I’m pretty sure, anecdotally, it’s happening.”

In addition to breaking up families, Craddock said, the practice prompts soldiers to serve two-year unaccompanied tours instead of three-year accompanied tours.

“You get much more turnover, and you’ve got the continual possibility of something happening back home, so they have the prospect that they’ll have to go back and take care of it,” he said.

EUCOM has 90 of the 199 schools in the Department of Defense Education Activity education system, Craddock told the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. But the command’s school system receives only 15 percent of the operations and maintenance and construction budget, which leaves it “under-resourced by a factor of one-third,” he said.

Officials have identified $191 million in “critical” military school construction projects that need to be completed on Army and Air Force installations in Europe, Craddock said. But “the projected annual DODEA military construction funding is inadequate” to maintain aging facilities, some of which were constructed before World War II.

“The inevitable outcome” of the funding crunch, Craddock said, is that the students suffer.

“Our children are cramped in long-standing temporary buildings, unable to clean up after physical education, [and] rushing through multiple-stage lunch periods.”

DODEA itself “is under-resourced, in terms of what they need to operate,” Craddock said.

So for Europe schools, “it’s a double hit,” he said.

“They don’t have what they need; and we get … a smaller share than we should.”

The bigger share of DODEA’s budget is going to military schools in the United States, which makes little sense, Craddock said.

In the States, parents can choose where to send their children to school.

“You don’t want to send your child to on base, you can send your child to a local school,” he said. But in Europe, “we don’t have a choice.”

Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R.-Fla., told subcommittee members he found EUCOM’s lack of school funding “kind of astounding.”

The lawmaker said he was concerned about the underfunding’s “impact on families and kids.”

“In terms of quality of life, sometimes we miss” education, Crenshaw said. “We think about housing and health care and child care and that kind of stuff.

“But if you’re overseas, and you’re not getting the right kind of education, you really set people back.”

Defense Department officials in Europe were on spring break this week and unavailable for comment.

On Friday afternoon, DODEA officials released the following statement regarding Craddock’s comments: “Schools and education are a critical quality of life factor for service members and their families and the quality of education and teachers have a tremendous impact on recruitment and retention in the Armed Forces. During times of family separation and deployments, DoDEA schools become the stability and focus of family life.”

Stars and Stripes reporter Charlie Reed contributed to this report.

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