Days before graduating high school, a student joined his family for a move from his overseas home to a new Florida duty station.
“His family couldn’t just leave him” to pick up his diploma, said Kaye McKinley, Florida’s military family education liaison. “We were quickly able to call the overseas school, to make sure he had everything he needed to graduate.
“He walked across the stage of our high school, but he got a diploma from the overseas school.”
That’s one of the many provisions of the Interstate Compact for Educational Opportunities for Military Children: Doing whatever possible to help that student receive a diploma, which might mean it comes from a previous school.
McKinley knows the transition difficulties military children face. She’s the principal at Liza Jackson Preparatory School in the Okaloosa County School District, but she’s also the wife of a retired Air Force officer, a mother of five children who made frequent moves before the compact existed.
Among their challenges: Two daughters who had been on a national softball team couldn’t try out for the team at their new school because they’d arrived after tryouts were held, and a son who lost all his rank in Junior ROTC when he moved to a new school. And although he had taken AP History, she said, “it took me forever to get the new school to accept the course.”
As of 2014, all 50 states and the District of Columbia had voluntarily adopted the compact, which addresses school transition issues of children of active-duty members, including National Guard and reserve members on active-duty orders. The Department of Defense Education Activity has signed a memorandum to comply with its provisions in both overseas and domestic schools. The states have appointed representatives to serve on a national interstate compact commission that enacts necessary rules, and works with states to implement the compact and communicate the requirements.
States are at various stages of implementing the compact, which means that in some areas, it’s not happening at the school level — some states don’t even have a council to address compact issues, which is required by the compact.
And while there have been cases where the compact was not being followed, “we’ve never gotten to that point where we had to enforce” the measure through state courts, said Rosemary Kraeger, chairwoman of the national Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission and superintendent of Middletown Public Schools in Rhode Island. If it got to that point, it would be up to the individual state to file legal action.
WHAT IT DOES (AND DOESN’T) DO
The compact is not designed to give military children an unfair edge, but to level the playing field, compensating for disadvantages military children have traditionally faced when they move.
It applies only to public schools, including public charter schools funded by the state. It doesn’t apply to private schools or home schools. It doesn’t affect any curriculum. It doesn’t apply to pre-school or pre-kindergarten programs.
Some of the most common issues involve credit transfers and graduation, such as state-specific grad requirements and late-enrollment issues. The compact gives school officials the flexibility to waive courses required for graduation if similar coursework has been completed and allows new schools to accept various exam results from prior schools in place of state testing requirements.
Special education resources also are included, though the the compact doesn’t supplant federal law — the Individuals with Disabilities Education, or IDEA, Act. The compact also addresses enrollment-age issues, allowing transfer students to progress in grade even if they’re not old enough based on requirements of the new state’s schools.
Parents who can’t resolve an issue with their school should contact their school liaison officers within the military community. These liaisons help educate schools and parents, and can help resolve issues.
“They’re well-informed,” Kraeger said. “I work hand in glove with my school liaison officer. She solves most of the issues before they get to me.”
Dave Splitek, who represents the Military Child Education Coalition as an ex-officio member of the compact commission, said that in the early 2000s, before the compact, MCEC would get a deluge of phone calls and emails from parents in August and September about the education transition process.
“Now, it’s a trickle,” he said.
In the 2016 Blue Star Families Military Family Lifestyle Survey, 33 percent of parents who responded indicated their child’s school was doing a good job of complying with the interstate compact. But of the active-duty troops and spouses who responded, 44 percent indicated they were unaware of the compact.
This could indicate that their kids aren’t old enough to be in school, or they are simply unaware of the compact, said Cristin Orr Shiffer, senior adviser for research and policy at Blue Star Families.
“This suggests to me that education and awareness are needed at the military parent and school levels,” Shiffer said
Kraeger said the commission is ramping up its communication and education efforts for military parents, school districts and schools.
“Everybody needs to work together. No one needs to be passive when it comes to the military child,” she said.”
For all the compact does, military parents need to remember that “it never gets away from the parent being the child’s best advocate,” said Mary Keller, president of the Military Child Education Coalition.
“It’s important that people don’t think policy is going to trump parenting. It’s not a get-out-of-parenting-free card.”