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OPINION

DODEA students deserve fully funded schools

By SHAZIA OLIVARES | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: August 13, 2018

In the land of prosperity and freedom, we value the education of our nation’s future — but what does this mean for military veterans’ children who are suffering from their education being blatantly ignored? As a military dependent who has attended a total of eight state and Department of Defense Education Activity schools, I experienced large differences in quality of education.

These schools are not under the Department of Education like many might expect. On base, we had four English teachers in one year, one person coaching every sport, and recycled, decades-old sports uniforms with stains. We retook classes from switching state curricula, and missed out on assumed opportunities like honors, advanced placement and international baccalaureate courses. My friends were forced to move off base to attend state schools, as I did when I lived with my aunt in Florida.

There is a disconnect between families and decision-makers, and we must be heard. The Department of Defense must provide more funds and share the responsibility with the state.

Less than 1 percent of the DOD budget is spent on our K-12 schools worldwide and it is expected to lower. This is a crisis that creates an opportunity gap for 88,000 military-connected children.

About 80 percent of eligible students choose to go to school off base, and total enrollment in DODEA is dropping. My neighbor Sal is an 8-year-old dependent, and when DODEA school buses got a budget cut, the community stepped in to keep children like him from walking over a mile to class. Parents indicate that they are not confident in DODEA, and they prioritize their children’s education over work.

The military gets final say on what base we move to, but we should have final say in what kind of schools we attend. These circumstances are a disservice to our veterans and do not work. Substantive change is long overdue.

DODEA schools need to operate like local school districts, while the DOD and the state share funding and responsibility. The Government Accountability Office reports that this would save the government up to $88 million and increase the state budget by less than 1 percent. DODEA schools would even receive more funds as states would not have to consider federal impact aid from lost property tax revenue and military children enrolling in local state schools. This is something that should have happened sooner, and America must invest in our youth.

Instead, the current administration is handing over DODEA schools to states to reduce costs, starting in Quantico, Va. This would not account for schools like Fort Campbell that are in two states, or local school districts that are not performing any better. This would also hurt military dependents’ chances to participate in extracurricular activities because they will not want to choose a child who is about to move, and they require the child to wait an entire year for the next tryouts.

The National Education Association also argues that states do not have the special expertise in dependents who are perpetually the “new kid” and dealing with the psychological effects of deployed parents. Students and parents alike find security and support in their military community where everyone endures the same sacrifices, and closing DODEA schools will add undeserved stress. We cannot ignore the needs of military dependents by giving up responsibility of DODEA schools just to save a few bucks.

While dependents go to underfunded schools, no one is making a connection with students, teachers and local districts to make policies. Putting DODEA schools as a last priority was a catalyst for a budget that solely focuses on war efforts in the first place. These children need to have the resources for a stable curricula, experienced faculty who understand their needs, and the ability to smoothly transfer into advanced courses, and should not have to raise money for extracurricular activities.

As a nation, we can never repay our debt to our veterans, but we can seek legislation that ensures these children are taken care of. This will drive our great nation forward and crack the glass ceiling for further education reform.

Shazia Olivares is a senior political science major at the University of Kentucky and the daughter of a U.S. Marine.

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