A Republican amendment to slash $250 million in defense appropriations targeted at constructing, renovating and repairing dilapidated public schools on military bases, was voted down this morning 39-380, but only after a passionate defense of the program by Washington Congressmen Adam Smith and Norm Dicks.
"We were worried," admitted Rep. Smith after the vote. "These schools are literally falling apart," says Rep. Smith, but he's come to expect nearly anything from what he calls "an unpredictable Republican majority." Talk about an understatement.
Nearly 42,000 military dependents attend one of 159 public schools operated by local school districts on military bases nationwide. The Army has identified 80 of these facilities, many of them over a half century old, as inadequate due to poor conditions or lack of capacity. For example, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, over 2,700 children attend six base schools operated by the Clover Park School District. According to Rep. Smith, five of these schools are in such poor physical condition that they are slated to be replaced, a process that can begin in months now that the appropriation appears safe.
School funding is a complicated issue for districts on or near major military bases which house large populations of school age children, but pay zero property taxes. The federal government helps fund operations of these schools but provides no permanent funding to pay for facilities. Hence the sorry condition of many of these aging school buildings.
A 2011 Rand study found that children with parents on deployment already score "modestly lower" than those without; decrepit facilities also have a negative impact on student performance, thus putting these kids at a double disadvantage. So while budgets are tight, this isn't the place to look for savings. "There are a lot better places to cut in D.O.D. than this," insists Smith. Fortunately, a majority of his colleagues seem to agree with him.