Interstate Compact Eases School Transitions
By Elaine Wilson
WASHINGTON, Feb. 12, 2010 - An interstate agreement is easing the school transition process for military children, many of whom will attend six to nine schools over the course of a parent's military career, an education official said.
The Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children is a cooperative effort among states -- 27 as of today -- to address some of the administrative challenges military children face when moving to a new school.
"The compact smoothes out the bumps in the road for military children as they move from one school district to another," said Ed Kringer, director of state liaison and education opportunities directorate for the Pentagon's office of military community and family policy. "The goal is to ensure students can move ahead with their education wherever they go."
Participating states work together to ensure uniform standards for processes including records transfer, course placement, graduation requirements, extracurricular participation, entrance and exit testing, and entrance-age requirements.
The compact started in 2006 as a collaborative effort among the Defense Department, Council of State Governments and other stakeholders. It's now regulated by the states and overseen by an interstate commission.
Officials initially aimed for 10 states to sign on, but the outcome far exceeded their expectations, Kringer said. In one year, they had 11 states participating, and by 2009, 25 states had signed on. California and New Jersey are the latest to join. These 27 states contain 81 percent of the nation's 630,000 military children, Kringer noted.
"We're very proud of this compact," he said. "This has been, by far and away, the most rapidly accepted interstate compact in history. We attribute much of the success to the fact that this compact doesn't cost very much, doesn't have a negative side; it just helps military children."
The compact reflects input from parents, teachers, school administrators, military families, and federal, state and local officials, Kringer said. It attempts to address the many challenges that arise due to multiple military moves and other military life-related challenges.
Many military families have problems, for instance, with the lag time for receipt of records at the their new school, Kringer said.
"This has always been a stumbling block," Kringer said. "If a child moves to a new school and the records don't follow for a few months, the student's in limbo." The compact, however, requires the school to send an official record within 10 days of request.
"It can be an unofficial record, but it has to contain enough information for the gaining school to make decisions," he said.
Another area of concern is graduation requirements, Kringer noted. "A student may be on track to graduate in School A, but now moves to School B with different graduation requirements," he said. "We're not asking schools to change their standards. We simply want the gaining school to look at the courses and see if they're similar enough to satisfy requirements." If they're not, then the gaining school can work with the sending school to ensure on-time graduation, he added.
Course placement is another hot topic for military families. Under the compact, if a student is in an honors program in one state, the gaining school's officials should assume that student also is qualified to be in the equivalent program at their school.
"They can decide to later test the child and remove him from the program if he's not qualified, but we're asking the school to presume the child is qualified," Kringer said. "This prevents children from losing out on months of time when they could be taking advanced courses needed to be competitive for college."
While the intent of the compact is to address problems experienced by active-duty students, it also encompasses the challenges of Guard and Reserve children whose parents have been called up. "If a parent is about to deploy, we ask the school to be flexible with excused absences," he explained.
While extensive, these are just a few of the military-related challenges the compact addresses, Kringer noted. The compact also includes provisions for special education services, extracurricular activities, tuition and attendance for out-of-area students, enrollment age requirements, exit exams, powers of attorney and immunizations.
For the road ahead, Kringer said, defense officials are looking to expand the compact's reach into additional states. But since the compact is a legislative process, it may take some time before all states come on board, he acknowledged.
In the meantime, Kringer encourages parents of military children to educate themselves about the compact, and be aware of the states it applies to, so they can be advocates for their children.
"This is a relatively new process, especially for those states that recently joined," he said. "It will take some time for the states to fully understand the compact and what it includes. Parents should be prepared for a situation where the school doesn't understand."
In that case, Kringer recommends that parents talk to a school counselor or military school liaison. "This is a work in progress," he said. "But it's also another tool in your toolkit to take care of your children."
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