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Debate over recruiters for military in schools

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Mary Adams doesn't want her daughter hearing pitches from military recruiters as she completes her high school education.

"They promise them all kinds of benefits without telling them of the risks," said Mrs. Adams, a registered nurse whose daughter is a sophomore at a high school in Rochester, N.Y.

Thomas Gregory disagrees. Three years ago, he feared losing his son to the streets, but thanks to a meeting with a military recruiter, his son gained a career, an education and a brighter future.

"This is not a numbers game, as I've heard, and we're not creating killers. What we are creating is citizens for tomorrow," Mr. Gregory said during a February meeting of the Rochester Board of Education, which is considering whether to limit recruiters' access to high school students.

A similar debate is brewing in Congress.

When approving the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, lawmakers inserted language requiring high schools that receive federal money to meet certain requirements regarding military recruiting.

Upon the military's request, high schools must provide students' names, addresses and telephone numbers. They also must give military recruiters the same access they provide to university and business recruiters during college and career fairs.

Congress will consider reauthorizing the education law later this year. Rep. Michael M. Honda, California Democrat, wants Congress to change how schools handle student contact information so military recruiters do not have automatic access to it. He said parents in his district are frustrated that recruiters are contacting their children at home.

Under Mr. Honda's bill, parents would have to consent to releasing their children's information to the military. Parents currently have to ask that the information be withheld, and the lawmaker said many parents are unaware that they have that option.

"Parents have an obligation and right to control their children's private information," said Mr. Honda, who taught high school biology and was a principal before entering politics.

The National Education Association and the National PTA have supported Mr. Honda's legislation in previous years. Mr. Honda said he thinks the bill's prospects have improved this year because of Democratic gains in Congress and the change to a Democratic administration.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, also senses the improved prospects — which is why he introduced a competing bill to keep things the way they are.

"If you take federal funds, you owe it to the federal government to let students talk to a recruiter without having to go to a recruiting station," said Mr. Hunter, who served with the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan before winning the seat long held by his father in November 2008.

Mr. Hunter said Mr. Honda's bill would severely limit recruiting because many students will not get the permission forms to their parents.

"These are high school kids. They have more important things to do," he said.

The military generally requires recruits to have a high school diploma or its equivalent, and the average age of those who enlist is nearly 21. A student can enlist as early as 17 with parental consent.

Of the Army's 80,000 enlistments during the 2008 fiscal year, about 14,000 — or nearly 18 percent — were high school students.

One enlistee, Matthew Tomlin, 17, said Army recruiters called him one night at his home in Arbuckle, Calif., a farming town about 50 miles north of Sacramento.

"They pay for your college, and with the economy the way it is, there's not that many jobs around. So I figured it was good," Matthew said.

Officials say not all high school seniors who enlist follow through. Some change their minds and go to college. Others don't graduate or fail to meet physical requirements.

Douglas Smith, a public affairs officer with the Army, said granting the military access to student contact information and school campuses makes for a more efficient use of recruiters' time.

"It's the last time that the population is in one place," said Mr. Smith, who is based at Fort Knox in Kentucky. "After high school, students graduate, they scatter."

AP writer Juliet Williams contributed to this report from Sacramento.

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