Communities near military installations are on notice: if they want to enjoy the economic benefits of military family residents, they need to pay special attention to the quality of their schools.
That’s because, as the military has made abundantly clear, service leaders are now including the quality of K-12 schools near military facilities as part of its calculus in determining future basing and personnel decisions throughout the United States.
One essential way for communities to protect the massive economic infusion these installations bring — and to attract and retain the 70 percent of those service members assigned to the installation, but who live off base with their school-age children — is to put in place a Purple Star School designation program. These programs designate K-12 schools as friendly to, and familiar with, the unique education and social-emotional needs of the many military-connected children who transition into new schools whenever their active-duty parent receives a relocation order.
To date, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, South Carolina, Texas and Tennessee have Purple Star School programs. My organization, the nonprofit Military Child Education Coalition, has launched a major effort to encourage every state and school district in the nation to launch such a program. With 1.2 million military-connected students moving every two to three years, we need Purple Star Schools in every corner of the nation making it their mission to support military families.
Schools with the Purple Star designation let military members know that they are dedicated to helping their child gain the educational skills necessary to be life-, workforce- and college-ready. The designation also signals that a school supports the social and emotional well-being of military kids adjusting to new schools and the absence of a parent during deployment. These programs are so successful, searching for a Purple Star school is often the first thing service member parents do upon receiving permanent change of station (PCS) orders.
Promoting Purple Star Schools is the least we can do for military kids, but they are also a good investment for communities that rely on defense dollars for their fiscal stability and growth.
The Department of Defense is the economic lifeblood for many communities. A report from the Department of Defense found that in just one year, the military spent $407 billion on contracts and payroll in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The states topping the list in terms of spending on personnel (from greatest to least) were: Virginia, California, Texas, Maryland, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Washington, Hawaii and Colorado.
The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that “this spending helps sustain local communities by creating employment opportunities across a wide range of sectors, both directly and indirectly. Active duty and civilian employees spend their military wages on goods and services produced locally, while pensions and other benefits provide retirees and dependents with a reliable source of income.”
Purple Star School programs are established by a state’s education authority or by an individual school district. There is no one-size-fits-all, but all programs share a similar application process and initiatives that allow military children to transition into a new school smoothly and effectively.
These designations are a matter of pride for communities. Seven schools in the Franklin, Indiana, school district recently received the honor from the Indiana Department of Education. The Franklin schools were among the first in the state to receive it, a welcome accolade for the town of approximately 25,000 people.
“Franklin Community Schools is proud to serve many military families,” said David Clendenin, the school system’s superintendent. “With our location near several important military and National Guard bases, we have a long and rich history of educating the children of military families in our district.”
Our coalition’s goal is for every town near an installation to take as much pride as Franklin. We want to raise awareness at the local level of the benefits of Purple Star Schools and to underscore that they are in everyone’s best interest — for the military child coming into a new town and for the town that relies on defense dollars.
Becky Porter, PhD., is president and CEO of the Military Child Education Coalition.
Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, firstname.lastname@example.org.