State Pushes Effort to Put Military Families at Ease; Duval to Join Program to Help Spouses Find Jobs, Their Kids Move Easily into Classroom

Article excerpt

Byline: GREGORY PIATT, The Times-Union

Florida and its communities that host military bases are trying to make it easier and quicker for military dependents to fit into schools and the job market once they relocate to the state.

The 80,000 active-duty military personnel and their families in the state move on average every 2.9 years, three times more often than their civilian counterparts, according to a report released in November by the Florida Senate.

Because a military child can attend six to nine schools before graduating, mobility can cause problems in transferring school records, matching up requirements for graduation between school districts and signing up for extracurricular activities.

The moves also make it difficult for a spouse to land a job, amass seniority or get paid the equivalent rate as civilian spouses with the same education levels.

These two quality of life issues are on the radar screen for the Pentagon. In recent news stories and in testimony before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said states and school districts need to help in these areas.

These and other areas will be considered when Pentagon officials look at whether to keep open or close a base during the next year's round of Base Realignment and Closure, Chu said.

Earlier this month, the state's base commanders told Gov. Jeb Bush he needs to keep focusing on making it easier for military spouses to find a job and smooth the transition for military students transferring from out-of-state schools.

"Base commanders feel the need to improve the quality of life for their personnel and families," said Pam Dana, director of Florida's Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development. "It's important that we improve on these areas, especially now that we are facing a BRAC [Base Realignment and Closure] round."

MEMORANDUM

With 33,000 school-age military children, Florida has been urging school districts, especially the ones near a military base, to look at areas where they can improve in helping incoming and outgoing military students.

In its November report, the Senate found that while the state has enacted some programs and has a reputation of being "military-friendly," it needs to do more. The Senate recommended the Florida Department of Education encourage school districts to enter into Military Child Education Coalition's Memorandum of Agreement.

This memorandum invites school districts to commit to a set of principles designed to increase predictability when a student transfers, while further easing the transition of military students.

The November report also stated only three school districts in 10 counties that host military installations were participating in the memorandum of agreement.

Duval County schools were not among the three, but that won't last for long, said Superintendent John Fryer, a retired Air Force major general.

"We have a great relationship with local military," Fryer said. "We are taking steps to implement the plan [memorandum of agreement]."

Overall the memorandum of agreement seeks to improve the timely transfer of records between schools, develop systems to ease student transition during the two weeks of enrollment, foster access to extracurricular programs and provide information early on about graduation requirements. …