For the first time, there will be data on students connected to military families that will help military leaders, educators and elected officials understand how such children are performing in school. The data will not allow officials to identify individual students, but will show how military students as a group perform in comparison to others, similar to other identifiers for gender and ethnic groups.
The bill also makes some changes to simplify and speed up federal impact aid payments to public school districts. These districts receive the aid to help ease the financial burdens of lost revenues resulting from having tax-exempt federal property within their districts. The money benefits all students in the schools, not just military children.
"Military families serve our country in so many ways, so I'm proud that our education bill to fix No Child Left Behind takes important steps to better serve military-connected kids," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and a driving force behind the provision for the military student identifier.
"Throughout my work on this bipartisan bill, I've fought hard to make sure schools serving high numbers of students from military families get the resources they need, and for the first time the bill will help shed a light on how they are doing in the classroom," Murray said in a statement.
"We owe it to military families across the country to make sure these students have access to the quality education that will put them on a path toward success."
The Military Child Education Coalition has long advocated for a military student identifier. There are more than 1 million school-age military-connected students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12, and the vast majority are in public schools. There is no reliable, consistent, school-based data on these students.
"We have an all-volunteer force that has endured more than 14 years of war with frequent and repeated military parent deployments," said Mary Keller, president and CEO of the Military Child Education Coalition. "We also know military-connected children move three times more often than their peers, creating the opportunity for disruptions, disconnects and gaps in education, in addition to the stress of having parents away from home for long periods of time."
Without the military student identifier, "educators and policy leaders have no way of knowing whether these students are faring well, keeping pace, or falling behind," said Keller, in a statement thanking lawmakers for voting for the Every Student Succeeds Act. "The identifier will provide data to inform both educators and policymakers, enabling them to adjust programs, direct resources and adopt strategies that support these students and their military families."
The identifier requirement applies only to students with a parent who is on active duty in the military. MCEC contends that it should also include those whose parents serve in the National Guard and reserves.
The legislation also simplifies the formulas and procedures for payments of impact aid to school districts.
Among other things, it will help to speed up impact aid payments to these school districts, which depend on this revenue. Education Department officials must make the payments within one year following the end of the fiscal year for which payments were appropriated by Congress. But as the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools notes, little can be done if the Education Department fails to meet the deadline.
"Although I think the timely payments provision does send a message to the department to get their payments out as soon as possible, it puts some responsibility on districts to submit information during audits and reviews in a timely fashion," said NAFIS spokesman Bryan Jernigan. "And then it tells the department to respond to those district submissions in a timely fashion so any outstanding issues are resolved quickly."
One new provision would help military districts that see a growth in the number of military-connected children from the end of one school year to the beginning of a new school year in the fall.
If the growth is caused by a Defense Department action and falls within certain parameters, the school district could be paid the extra amount during that school year.
"Otherwise, payments are always based on the count taken the previous fall," Jernigan said. "This would help a growing district due to (base realignment and closure actions) or some other reason that would send troops to an installation."
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.