The Office of Innovation and Improvement is the home of the Department of Education’s efforts to support military families and address their unique educational challenges. These challenges include high rates of student mobility, the effects of multiple deployments, and a variety of military transformations. As a member in the National Security Staff Interagency Policy Committee on Military Families, OII operationalizes the Secretary of Education’s commitments to ensure excellence in the education of military-connected students. For the first time ever, the Department of Education has made military families one of its supplemental priorities for its discretionary grant programs. This priority, when applied, will favor grant applications to meet the educational needs of service members, military spouses, military-connected children, and veterans. The commitments were announced by President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Dr. Jill Biden, as part of the President’s directive to establish a coordinated and comprehensive federal approach to supporting military families. This effort was led by the National Security Staff and Domestic Policy Council, in response to the Presidential Study Directive-9 calling on all Cabinet Secretaries and other agency heads to find better ways to provide our military families with the support they deserve. The President’s report, Strengthening Our Military Families: Meeting America’s Commitment, was released on January 24, 2011, at the White House.
Additionally, the Department will seek new means of collecting and reporting data to promote transparency around the performance of military-connected children as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Data collection is critical to directing education and counseling resources to those areas most impacted by deployments and other stressors. Finally, the Department is working to improve its Impact Aid funding of school districts serving military children. This includes seeking authority that would allow school districts that experience high growth due to military base realignment to apply for funds using current year rather than previous year student counts.
When service members are deployed, parents frequently ask the schools for additional excused absences to allow the families to spend extended time together before, during, or after deployments. Some school districts have developed policies and practices that address this need while maintaining high educational standards and upholding established state and local attendance policies. To encourage schools to be flexible in balancing educational needs with family responsibilities, the Secretary has committed to providing guidance to school district superintendents on effective policies and practices related to military-connected children and public school attendance policies. The Touching Base Newsletter provides details about these and other commitments, events, and activities of the Secretary and other senior ED leaders.
In 2008, the Deputy Secretaries of Defense and Education signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to form a partnership between the two departments to support the education of military students. The MOU provides a structure for collaboration between the two agencies as well as with local, state and other relevant entities, leveraging their coordinated strengths to improve the educational opportunities of military-connected students. It establishes a mechanism to assist communities and local educational agencies as they prepare for projected increases in military dependent students at military installations due to Base Realignment and Closure, Global Posture Realignment, and projected increases in the Armed Forces. The agencies share a goal of coordinated interagency and intergovernmental assistance to respond to education needs that may arise with this growth at the local level and to support war fighters and their families. The MOU defines the basis on which the Departments will work together to strengthen and expand school-based efforts to ease student transitions and help children of military families develop academic skills that will last a lifetime and coping skills to help during deployments. OII co-chairs the MOU Working Group which is comprised of representatives of both Departments and the military Services. Examples of the Working Group’s activities, as well as other initiatives within the Department that support military families, are available on the Veterans and Military Families Web page.