- The Washington Times - Monday, March 3, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Leonor Chavez, the wife of a Navy doctor, doesn’t worry that her daughter has to change schools every few years. It’s the required paperwork she finds daunting.

“Every county’s different,” said Mrs. Chavez, whose husband now works at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. “Every state’s different. Every school’s different. Paperwork is what daunts me the most. She can adjust pretty quickly.”

As a result, Maryland and dozens of other states are considering legislation to make the transitions easier for children such as the Chavez family’s 11-year-old daughter, who started a new school in a new state this year.

With military “brats” changing schools an average of six to nine times from kindergarten to 12th grade, the Pentagon is proposing a multi-state compact that would help families with the transitions.

“The one thing we continuously forget to address is the sacrifices our children are forced to make,” said Rear Adm. Len Hering, commander of the Navy’s Southwest region.

Adm. Hering moved from Annapolis to San Diego as his middle son entered his senior year, which he said tested the entire family.

His son hoped to take advanced placement courses in chemistry and calculus but instead had to repeat physical education and state history courses usually taught to freshmen. It was his third state in high school, requiring a third class in basic state history.

“He took badminton with ninth-graders and a third history course,” Adm. Hering said.

Pentagon supporters of the multi-state agreement say difficulties uprooting children are cited as a major reason for leaving active duty.

“Military families consider the quality of their children’s education to be one of their primary quality-of-life concerns,” said Leslye A. Arsht, the Pentagon’s deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy.

The compact, which would take effect after 10 states approve it, would direct participating states to cut red tape. States would have to accept temporary transcripts for class placement until official records are received. Children who don’t meet local vaccination requirements could be enrolled with a short grace period.

For high school students, membership in honor societies such as Beta Club would be honored, and state-specific exit exams required for graduation could be waived or substituted for tests taken in another state. The compact also would address a top complaint of military children: having to take the basic state history courses.

William Harrison, superintendent of schools in Cumberland County, N.C., home of Fort Bragg, said the system has about 13,000 students with parents on active duty and that handling transfers is a major task.

“There are 50 sets of requirements out there, and every state thinks theirs are the highest and the best,” Mr. Harrison said. “They need to acknowledge the need to work for people serving our country.”

At least 24 state legislatures are considering a version of the compact proposal.

The Virginia legislature voted against the proposal, in part because politicians were worried about ceding state authority over educational requirements, said Delegate Mark L. Cole, Spotsylvania Republican and Navy veteran who sponsored the compact bill. The proposal was approved in the House but failed in the Senate last week.

The Georgia Senate has voted for the compact, but the question is pending in the House.

“It’s a make-sense bill,” said Sen. Ed Harbison, a Democrat whose western Georgia district includes Fort Benning, with as many as 10,000 military children in the region. “It will bring some help to the problems the children of our heroes are facing.”

Some states are acting unilaterally. In Missouri, House members are considering a bill waiving for military children a requirement to take a test on the Missouri Constitution.

“I have actually had probably 50 to 75 e-mails and phone calls from parents thanking us for doing this,” said state Rep. David Day, Pulaski County Republican and bill sponsor.

Pentagon officials say bills making school moves easier are critical to national security.

“We have a national volunteer force, and families have to decide at each turn whether to stay in the service or not,” Mr. Arsht said. “And one of the deciders — and surveys tell us it’s a very high priority decider — is whether families are satisfied they have the kind of educational choices their children need to be successful.”

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