Sometimes we forget that buried deep in our Defense Budget are items of critical importance. No, not bombs and weapons. No, not armor or tanks.
Schools. We pay for the upkeep of schools on many a military base/post in the US.
Yesterday, The Daily Beast, called attention to our failure to maintain basic conditions:
The latest Pentagon report card on schools where sons and daughters of military personnel are starting classes focuses on the public schools on military bases. The report identifies nearly 40 percent that are in “poor” or “failing” condition.
My original thought was that these schools would be in the South. When the Federal Government said it was no longer legal to desegregate in the 1960's, we had a huge problem in the South. Military families needed schools that followed the law and those schools did not exist in most Southern communities. So we built our own schools to adhere to the law.
The DoD still owns and operates these schools. Since military budgets are tight (yes, budgets that affect spouses and children have been tight for a long time), repairs to schools are postponed, not just months, but years. So this news didn't surprise me.
But what did surprise me is that we're not just talking about DoD owned and operated schools.
Schools run by public-school systems on U.S. Army posts don’t fare much better: 39 percent fail to meet even the military’s own standards, according to a 2010 Army report.
We're talking about schools owned and run by the local school districts that exist on military bases. Basically, the Federal Government provides the land and the school district provides the building, the teachers, and everything else that makes a school a school. Each base has a contract with the local school district, so exactly who is responsible for what changes from place to place.
Ultimately, our Federal Government should be held responsible but I am sure there are multiple pissing contests going on across the United States. School districts are strapped for money. They would prefer the Federal Government pay for repairs. The Federal Government is strapped for money. They would prefer that the local school district pay for repairs.
The worst-ranking facilities are eligible for repair grants, but the total amount available, $250 million, is not likely to make much of a difference anytime soon. The defense department estimates that bringing military-run schools up to standards would cost nearly $4 billion. Local districts would need another $1 billion.
Once again, it's all about the money. The irony - it's all our tax dollars, whether it comes from a Federal pot or a local pot. At the end of the day, we have given money that should keep our schools in good repair. Period. And, let's face it, not just our schools for military children need to be in good repair, but all schools.
Who gets lost in the middle? Why, the kids, of course. Kristen Lombardi of iWatchNews puts a personal face to the story:
Catie Hunter is only 11 years old. Her father, an Army platoon sergeant, has spent five of those years away from her, serving his country in Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan. At her elementary school on an Oklahoma military post, ceiling tiles are removed so that when a Great Plains storm rumbles in, rain can cascade from the rotting roof into large trash cans underneath. To get to class, Catie must dodge what she calls “Niagara Falls.”
And, in this six minute video, Lombardi manages to tie the stories of decrepit schools to the daily stresses that military families already face:
Can we say jobs, anyone? Many of these schools are in the United States, not overseas. Repairing them and/or replacing them could mean employment for thousands. Let's put some Americans to work fixing our schools. And, at the same time, take just a little more load off the shoulders of our military kids and their parents.