Interstate Compact Eases School Transitions
By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 8, 2011 An interstate compact is spurring sweeping improvements to the school transition process for military parents and their children, while also making inroads into addressing parents’ education-related concerns, a Defense Department official said.
The Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children affects everything from school enrollment and eligibility to course placement and graduation, explained Ed Kringer, director of state liaison and educational opportunity for the Pentagon’s office of military community and family policy. Since its inception in 2006, 39 states have adopted the compact, ensuring inclusion of nearly 90 percent of military children and teens.
The Defense Department developed the compact in coordination with the Council of State Governments’ National Center for Interstate Compacts in an attempt to counter many of the common education challenges military families face, he said.
“All parents want good education for their children; they want them to have a chance to succeed,” Kringer said. “In many cases, many [military] parents have felt there are roadblocks -- unintentional roadblocks -- but roadblocks put in the way of their children.”
A delay in records transfer has been an ongoing concern, he noted, with some schools taking weeks, or months, to ship records to another state. This delay can result in a delay in course or program placement. Through the compact, however, schools are required to ship records within 10 days.
The compact also looks out for students in honors programs, Kringer said. In the past, school officials have barred students from enrolling in honors programs until their qualifications could be verified. Meanwhile, they’ve lost a semester or more of participation in that program.
“If you’re transferring schools every couple of years and every couple of years you’re losing that advanced training, that can have a serious impact,” he said.
The compact works to avoid these education gaps by requiring the gaining school to presume students are qualified for an honors program if they were in a similar program in another school and there’s space in the gaining program, Kringer explained. The students still can be tested, but meanwhile, they’re not losing valuable learning time.
Kringer also noted the compact’s impact on extracurricular activities. Students who move during the school year often miss activity deadlines and end up having to sit out a year of an activity, such as band or a sport, until auditions or tryouts are held again. The compact requires schools to waive the deadlines or, if those dates are steadfast, to find an alternate way for the student to apply, such as taped auditions.
The value of extracurricular activities can’t be underestimated, Kringer noted. “It helps them fit in, join in,” he said.
For high school seniors, the compact works to ensure frequent moves don’t affect their graduation plans. The compact requires the gaining school to look closely at courses and exams so students aren’t denied a graduation due to minor differences in standards between states. If standards can’t be waived, then school officials should see if students qualify for a diploma from their former school.
Kringer acknowledged some schools have concerns about having to save slots or bump someone else out in favor of military students. But that’s not the case, he said. “We’re just ensuring kids have a chance to participate, to compete.”
The compact includes many other provisions, Kringer said. He encouraged parents and school officials to educate themselves about the compact, particularly as the new school year draws near.
“There are going to be schools with relatively few military children [that] won’t get the word,” he said. “What’s going to be important is for parents to understand the compact, what it provides, and also know what it doesn’t do. And if they hit any roadblocks, Kringer said, parents and guardians should talk to their local school liaison officer.
The big-picture goal of the compact, Kringer said, is to alleviate parents’ education concerns and to keep families together. He would like to avoid situations in which the families choose to stay in one place while the service member moves to another to avoid school transition issues.
“That’s not what we want. … We don’t want to keep families apart,” he said. “We surely don’t want them apart because they’re worried about their children being put behind because they have to transfer schools.”
Kringer said DOD officials will continue to work with the interstate commission, the compact’s governing body, to bring the remaining 11 states on board.