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Military Children Deserve First-Rate, First-Class Education

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 5, 2002 – The theme for this year's Military Child Education Coalition conference was "Creating a Legacy for Children." Army Lt. Gen. James T. Hill said this theme is important to parents, educators and service members because all parents want the best for their children.

Hill spoke to the more-than 350 attendees during the fourth-annual conference, which was held in San Antonio, Texas, July 31 to Aug. 2. The general is one of the senior leaders for the Army's Secondary Education Transition Study.

Hill told the group he and every other parent must do their part in helping create a meaningful legacy for children. He noted both the military and the American public education system have made dramatic changes during his 35 years of service.

"Today's public schools are seemingly in crisis beset by distractions, detractors and problems on every front," said Hill, commander of I Corps and Fort Lewis, Wash. "They're under-funded, under-staffed, hampered with changing urban demographics, union woes, law suits, public and parental apathy, mistrust, violence, home-schooling competition, and political correctness run amok."

However, Hill said he remains optimistic because he works daily with teaching and administrative professionals who are laboring to overcome the obstacles and are committed to a first-rate education for all children.

He noted organizations like the non-profit Military Child Education Coalition "refuse to accept the deterioration of our schools and work diligently doing their part creating a legacy for children."

Hill said he applauds President Bush's goal of leaving no child behind, but he said, far too often, a whole group of children are left behind. "They're our sons and daughters with special needs," he said. As parents of a child with special needs, Hill said he and his wife, Toni, "know too well the challenges of moving Meghan from school district to school district and advocating for her rights over and over because federal law and guidelines are interpreted differently place to place."

He said parents and educators need to build a legacy for all children, not just "normal" children.

The well-being of service families is essential to readiness, Hill said, and he called education the corner stone of that well-being and of the country's well-being.

A secondary theme for the conference could be, "The Power of Partnership," Hill said. "If we are to achieve our common objectives -- which translates into better educational opportunities for our serve members and families -- we will do it through the power of partnership," he said. The general noted partnerships among educators, local and national government leaders, military leaders, and uniformed and civilian parents all help reach the common goal.

Achieving these objectives requires a commitment to constructive change, creative thought, and understanding that "small-minded people, befuddled with small-minded thoughts" can't stand in the face of determined, thoughtful advocates, Hill pointed out.

For example, he said, the military needs to develop a strategy to obtain in-state tuition policies for service members and their families.

"As we move from base to base and state to state, we become almost stateless people," Hill noted. He said America must adopt national policies that allow service members and their families to pay in-state tuition rates while residing at bases located in those states and allow students to continue to receive in-state tuition rates after their parents are reassigned.

The general said the state of Washington has such a policy. It isn't perfect, but it's better than most states, he said. The audience roared with laughter when Hill added, "It wasn't achieved because of state benevolence."

"It was achieved through the power of partnership," he noted. "It took the combined Army, Air Force and Navy leadership within the state to frame the issue for the state legislators. We went together to the state capital, sat in hearings and testified as to the need and to the goodness of our idea."

He said "simple economic logic" overcame the "red-herring argument" that the state would lose money by granting in- state tuition to transient students. "The U.S. military in the state of Washington directly inputs more than $8 billion annually into the state's economy. We showed the legislators that we were a dollar-generating constituency, and they listened. It's the same in every state where there is a military installation. The simple fact is that we're paying our dues, and we deserve the benefits derived from the same."

Hill said he and his wife are proud to be members of the Military Child Education Coalition and noted how the organization has taken root and grown. "We're making a meaningful difference in the lives of military families by furthering the educational opportunities for them -- creating a legacy for our children," he said. "Our military will not accept second best -- neither should our children.

"First- rate, first-class education for all of our children" is what MCEC stands for, Hill said. "We've earned it, we deserve it and we'll have it!"

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