U.S.

July 27, 2012

Education Department representative visits Nellis

By Ronald Gibson
99th Force Support Squadron, School Liaison Officer

Dr. Karen Gross, United States Department of Education senior policy advisor, discusses issues regarding military members and their families during a round table meeting July 24, 2012, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Before joining the U.S. Department of Education, Gross was the President of Southern Vermont College.

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Nellis was visited by a U.S. Department of Education representative July 24.

Dr. Karen Gross, a senior policy advisor, toured the child care development center and had a roundtable discussion with Nellis and Creech spouses and program managers at the golf course.

Gross, who assumed her current position in January after taking a leave of absence as president of Southern Vermont College, said much of her previous focus has been improving student success rates among first-generation college students and veterans in higher education. Recently, however, her interest has shifted to military families confronting frequent moves, deployment, and career transition challenges, particularly for military spouses as they move from one assignment to the next.

“I just want each and every one of you to know how appreciative the administration and I are for all military members and the sacrifices they and their families continually make in service to our country,” Gross said at the opening of the roundtable discussion. “Protecting our freedoms is something you do every day, so the least we can do is protect and to improve your rights to a free and appropriate education.”

The road to reciprocity regarding educational opportunities begins with what Gross described as three categories of focus for the U.S. Department of Education: military-connected children, job transportability for spouses, and college access and completion for active-duty and recently separated military members.

“We’re aware that most military children move six to eight times during their parents’ typical military career and that obviously creates stress for the students, but it also creates a strain on the family as they try to find a new school to maintain whatever academic progress they’ve made,” Gross explained.

Gross cited some of the recent initiatives to mitigate the challenges military-connected children face. Among them are: the implementation of Common Core Standards, a state-led measure adopted by 46 states meant to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare children for college and the workforce; the Interstate Compact for Educational Opportunities for Military Children, adopted by 43, which is meant to ease transition as military children move from state to state; enhancing guidance counselors’ awareness of issues affecting military children; and educating school districts about the importance and purpose of federal impact aid, which offsets the cost of educating military children in public school districts.

The challenges faced by most military families are all too familiar those in attendance at Tuesday’s roundtable agreed.

“What I don’t think many schools understand is that our country has been at war for the past 10 years, which has meant more deployments, more frequent separation from our families, and more stress for our children,” explained Tech. Sgt. Jeffery Jones, 57th Information Aggressors Squadron adversary network warfare operator craftsman who detailed how unresponsive the public systems he has experienced throughout the country have failed to provide what he views as inadequate education for his special needs child.

While Gross reiterated the federal government’s commitment to persuade state and local governments to do more for military families in response to Jones, she also acknowledged the limitations of the federal government’s role in public education, reminding attendees that educational policy ultimately falls to the states with local school boards in charge of most of the implementation.

“We do have money and the federal perch, however,” Gross said. “Those can be powerful tools in affecting change.”

The roundtable also discussed difficulty for active duty and spouses in completing their post-secondary education as they move from place to place in addition to delays in spouse career progression due to frequent moves. Several spouses cited state-directed credentialing as one the most glaring culprits.

“It was difficult for me to find employment as a nurse, because as I would move from one state to the next I was forced to reapply for my license; despite numerous interstate compact for nursing certifications that would honor my license,” explained Vanessa Cleveland, a military spouse. “Inevitably I would find myself moving to a state who had not signed the compact, which forced me to start all over again.”

Gross said Cleveland’s experience also is shared by spouses who happen to be teachers. She concluded the discussion by emphasizing additional initiatives, such as Veteran’s Opportunity to Work Act and her efforts to extend it to spouses, in addition to Presidential Executive Order 13607, which is meant to curb education’s “bad actors” from marketing and misleading to veterans.

“It appears we have plenty of ’out-clauses’ for military members when they are required to leave their active-duty station or deploy, but it seems to me that the converse should be available too,” Gross said. “We need to find a way to create more “in-clauses” too.”




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