FORT LEWIS, Wash. | On May 7, Washington became the 17th state to join the Interstate Compact - part of a nationwide effort to streamline the transition from one school to the next for military kids who frequently relocate.
Schools are often unaware or unresponsive to the needs of military children. There are limitations on credits that can be transferred from other states and districts. Military kids often have to retake courses, sit out athletic activities and in some cases, cannot graduate on time.
The Council of State Governments (CSG), led by David Adkins, reports that “the average military student faces transition challenges more than twice during high school, and most military children experience six to nine different school systems in their lives from kindergarten to 12th grade.”
According to the Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University, multiple relocations, as well as separation anxiety when parents are deployed, often play a role in military children’s school performance. These issues are widespread but frequently unseen by the general public. Since the inception of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Department of Defense reports that more than 700,000 children have been affected - left with a single parent or another relative while a parent deploys. As such, they face school trials with less support than many other children.
In August 2006, the CSG and the Department of Defense assembled a national advisory group to create a compact that would address the challenges military kids confront in making school transitions. In December 2007, the CSG launched the Interstate Compact. The legislation, which has been introduced into 32 state legislatures, attempts to streamline standards for military kids and deals with the transfer of records, course placement, graduation requirements, redundant or missed testing, entrance-age variations and other transition issues.
Kansas became the first state to sign the compact into law, in April 2008. This had an affect on 19,000 school-age children of military families residing in that state.
“This is something that military families have needed and wanted for years,” said state Sen. Steve Hobbs, a Democrat who sponsored the bill in Washington state that was signed into law this month by Gov. Christine Gregoire, a fellow Democrat. “These families move from post to post, and they shouldn’t have to sacrifice so much in terms of educational opportunities. This is a good bill that will help tens of thousands of military kids in our state.” More than 29,000 military kids in Washington state will be affected.
Mark San Souci, regional liaison for the Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for the Northwest Region, including Washington state, has worked to see the compact enacted. “The Interstate Compact will level the playing field for thousands of military children, and reverse decades of transition difficulties faced by military families who move frequently serving our nation,” he said.
The compact also potentially affects thousands of activate Guard and Reserve families. There are still many states that have yet to join. Until they do, Mr. San Souci and the CSG hope that more districts in states not in the compact will try harder to accommodate military kids moving from other states.
• Michael J.R. Schindler is a Navy veteran and founder of Operation Military Family. He is also the author of “Operation Military Family.”