The US Department of Defense said last week that it will not build an anticipated new middle school at Fort Campbell, the home of the 101st Airborne on the Kentucky-Tennessee border, because the funds it would need for the school have been re-purposed to provide funding for President Donald Trump’s promised security wall on the US-Mexico border, the New York Times reports.
In all, 127 projects have lost money in order to meet the president’s demands for a border wall. A letter from Mark Esper, US Secretary of Defense, says he has “directed the Acting Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller)/Chief Financial Officer to ensure that up to $3.6 billion in unobligated military construction funds are available for the purpose of undertaking the specified military construction projects. The funds being made available are associated only with deferred military construction projects that are not scheduled for award until fiscal year 2020 or later and do not include any family housing, barracks, or dormitory projects.”
But the funds do include several schools and other daycare facilities for military families. Through the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), the Pentagon operates 163 schools in seven states and abroad for the children of the people serving this nation. According to the Schott Foundation, “DoDEA’s schools showcase the promise of wraparound supports, socioeconomic and racial integration, and robust and equitable public funding.”
The present middle school at Fort Campbell, Mahaffey Middle School, serves 552 students in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, some of whom have to eat lunch in the school library because the cafeteria isn’t big enough. “Most of our students don’t know what it’s like to live in a world without war, where you don’t have to worry about Mom or Pop being killed,” the Times quoted Jane Loggins as saying. She’s a teacher at the school and the director of the Federal Education Association’s Stateside Region, the teachers’ union for the Defense Department’s education system in the United States and Guam. “The one big benefit of this school is that we try to support all those emotional needs.”
Mahaffey and several other schools for military children will now have to support those students with a little less funding, an accommodation not unknown to school officials in the US but one that has brought some cries for taking care of the next generation of students whose parents are leading by example.
Although Republicans in Congress generally have expressed support for the building of a border wall, many are also committed to protecting the educational institutions that serve the families of those who serve. Some have blamed Democrats, saying the funds wouldn’t need to be diverted if Democrats in the House had directed more funding to support border security during the recent appropriations process.
A discussion of the merits of the border wall as a military spending project is clearly outside our journalistic scope, and blaming one party or the other for this travesty isn’t going to solve the problem that our military schools need the money they were expecting.
I can tell you, though, as a data scientist, if I separate out students who are in families with connections to the military, the scores on standardized tests are higher for military-connected students than for the general population. I have always assumed this was because military families are more disciplined and students who study in a disciplined manner tend to achieve higher scores on standardized tests. But it is also a sign that military parents raise their kids to place a high value on education.
Because of this connection to test scores, this disaster for future generations is well within our scope. This move by the current administration, under an executive order that declared the border a national emergency, is a way of taking funding away from schools that are, based on data, providing excellent services for our students. This is how you dumb down a population: give the top schools less to work with, and send kids from lower-performing schools to charters that are not accountable for the progress of students. A few more years is all it will take to lose a generation of students—they grow up fast.