Current Issues


Ensuring Equal Educational Opportunities for Military Children

Only about 8 percent of all military children attend schools on bases. The majority attend schools in civilian communities. From very early on, they face inequities. As states struggle to fund Pre-K programs, they may choose to exclude military children because they are not state residents. When military children change schools (an average of 6-9 times before completing high school) they often face the risk of not graduating on time because some states do not accept their credits when they transfer.

When military children, especially those from National Guard and Reserve families, attend schools with largely non-military populations, they are often invisible. Teachers maybe unaware that children in their classrooms have mothers or fathers at war; teachers and other students may not understand, or know how to respond to, the behaviors they are manifesting.

Reducing the College Dropout Rate of GI Bill Users

To honor the Americans who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, our nation has pledged its support through the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The U.S. government commits as much as $17,500 per year in educational allowances to those who have served our country on the front lines as soldiers or here at home as family members. Yet the dropout rate among veterans and family members using the GI Bill is estimated at a shocking 85 percent.

The goal is as ambitious as it is urgent. In many states, about 27 percent of veterans under age 25 are unemployed, which is about double the rate of their civilian counterparts. In addition, the unemployment rate for military spouses is 26 percent. Proper degrees, certificates and credentials can help ebb away at these high unemployment rates.

Working with veterans groups, we propose to identify strategies and policies that community and technical colleges can use to reduce that dropout rate, with a short-term goal of reducing it to 75 percent by 2015, and a long-term goal of reducing it to 40 percent by the decade. 

Promoting Spouse Employment, Education and Training

Military spouses are routinely unemployed and underemployed. According to the RAND Corporation, almost two-thirds of military spouses say their status negatively affects their work opportunities. The organization Blue Star Families found in 2010 of the 61 percent of spouses not employed outside the home, 48 percent reported that they wanted to work.

When service members are transferred, and their spouses follow, some states refuse to allow spouses to collect unemployment insurance because their job resignations are not considered “good cause” resignations. When spouses, whose professions such as social work or accounting, require state licenses, their licenses may not be transferrable. And spouses in other professions, such as preschool teachers and child care providers, must reapply for background checks each time they move, which may delay hiring. Finally, spouses who enroll in education or training may be forced to move before completing their courses; they may also be forced to drop out when their spouses deploy or come home severely injured.

Protecting the Rights of Military Families

Service members often face child custody and child support problems, especially during deployments. Custodial parents sometimes lose custody because of a deployment; deployed parents may not be allowed to delegate their child visitation rights to other family members; and, when disputes arise, deployed service members may not be allowed to testify electronically at family court hearings.

Service members have long been targets for predatory lenders. And while federal law gives states authority to place limits on interest rates for short-term credit, many states don’t enforce these regulations. In addition, the new federal law financial services reform law did not cover some loopholes for auto dealer loans, such as high document fees, dealer markups on finance charges, and pre-payment penalties.

Military families often face discrimination when they try to adopt children, even though military families should be prime recruiting targets for adoption. Most “waiting children” are children of color, and 36 percent of military families, including almost one quarter of its officers, are members of racial minorities. Yet adoption agencies actively discourage families by insisting on lengthy residency requirements or disqualifying them because they don’t own homes.

Addressing Family Mental Health Problems with Civilian Support

Children and youth in military families tend to have higher rates of mental health problems than those in the general population, and those mental health problems are especially pronounced during parental deployments. Child maltreatment is rising dramatically among young military families. One Texas study showed that the rate of child maltreatment by non-deployed mothers spiked 42 percent during fathers’ deployments.

After deployment, many service members return from combat not only with severe physical injuries, but also “invisible wounds” such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression; their coping mechanisms often include substance abuse and domestic violence. Indeed, a 2010 Army report shows that the number of soldiers who commit spousal abuse or child maltreatment has increased by 177 percent in six years. Yet only 13 percent of perpetrators were referred for counseling.

Why? In the military culture, a mental health diagnosis for any family member still carries a stigma. And a mental health diagnosis for a service member can mean the loss of a security clearance and diminished chances for promotion.

All too often, public systems that should offer supports to military families fail to do so because they use military status, either intentionally or unintentionally, to deny the families eligibility. For example, the federal government has provided $1.5 billion for states to implement home-visiting programs, which support young families under stress. Though the law allows states to reach out and include military families in such programs, few have done so. 

Focusing on Families with Special Needs

As estimated 300,000 military family members have special needs. Yet, the military health care system provides very limited supports and services to meet those needs. Thus, families must rely on the Medicaid program, which is run differently in each state. Each time they are transferred, families must reapply for state Medicaid services. Their dependents, often young children whose progress depends on timely interventions, languish for years on state waiting lists.

Families with special-needs children also face problems getting critical educational supports. When children with learning or physical disabilities qualify for Individualized Education Plans that provide special services in one school district, a new school district may deny their application to receive the same support, hoping the families will be reassigned before their appeals are heard.