New report: Education standards could impact future Army cuts

New report: Education standards could impact future Army cuts

by Drew Brooks
The Fayetteville Observer, N.C

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — A nonpartisan security think tank is sounding the alarm when it comes to education in military communities.

A new report from the Stimson Center warns that communities that depend on the military for their economic lifeblood could take big hits in coming force cuts and realignments based on their education standards.

The report, "The Army Goes to School: The connection between K-12 education standards and the military base economy," was presented during an event Thursday in Washington.

The author, North Carolina-based Stimson fellow Matthew Leatherman, said he found inconsistent standards and performance across communities outside Army installations.

Leatherman, who has worked with the Fayetteville Regional Chamber, said Army leaders — in particular Gen. Ray Odierno — have been clear that education will play a role in where the Army decides to cut troops.

He said the report is meant to advance the conversation and serve as a warning to communities that, in some cases, rely on the military for up to 90 percent of every dollar earned.

Among 19 installations that contribute at least 15 percent of the income in their host counties, six account for more than half of every dollar.

Fort Bragg is in the next tier, with the post contributing 43 percent of every dollar earned, according to official sources.

Leatherman's familiarity with Fort Bragg and Cumberland County spurred the report, he said.

He's been involved in panels to address education in the shadow of Fort Bragg and said he considered Odierno's remarks on education in 2013 to be a shot across the bow.

"As a budget and economy guy, you're economy is at stake," Leatherman said.

From an Army perspective, Leatherman said inconsistent education standards and performance could pose a retention risk, something officials want to avoid as they attempt to maintain the quality of the all-volunteer force.

"Education and family care is an important part of military culture and the benefits that troops receive for their service," Leatherman said. "The Army plays a critical role in the economies of local communities and it relies on those states and communities to provide an education that will help retain career soldiers."

Varying standards pose problems for military families who make regular moves across the community.

But when moving state to state, they may find their children ahead or lagging behind the standards of other states.

Lt. Gen. David Halverson, commander of Installation Management Command and assistant chief of staff for Installation Management, participated in the unveiling of the report. He left little doubt that education was an important factor to Army leaders.

He called it "one of the pillars" of the Army's values and urged coalitions between military and education leaders to improve schools in defense communities.

Roughly 80 percent of Army families enroll their children in public schools, Halverson said.

At the same time, the Army is a national organization that requires its troops to move on average every two to three years.

"When I'm moving my kid that has a 4.0 and is in the national honors society from one state to another, why should they have to take that state history again when they took state history in Texas to be able to graduate?" he said. "Why do we have some of these barriers as we move across boundary lines for us to be able to advance their education?"

Military schools have already adopted a standard, the controversial Common Core.

Several states with military installations followed suit, but not all have done so. Others, like North Carolina, adopted the standards but have since put them under an official review.

Leatherman said Stimson was not advocating on behalf of Common Core specifically, but said a set of standards needs to be set.

"We're not trying to wade into what those standards should be," he said.

Leatherman said the Stimson Center hopes to spur communities to improve their efforts to improve education.

An Army-funded report found many communities, including those surrounding Fort Bragg, had shortcomings when it came to schools with large military dependent populations.

And Stimson said communities needed as much time as they could ahead of coming cuts, which could include further base realignment or closures in future years.

"Changes in education don't happen overnight," he said. "This is about helping Army host communities understand a variable that's in play."

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