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Oregon set to join pact to help military children

Mar 16, 2014


By CHAD GARLAND
Of the Associated Press

SALEM — Children in military families that move every few years face challenges with things such as school enrollment, class placement and even on-time graduation. But a new measure awaiting Gov. John Kitzhaber's signature to become law would ease those difficulties.

Earlier this month, lawmakers passed a bill to join the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children and adopt certain uniform rules in common with 46 other states related to enrollment, placement, extracurricular eligibility and graduation for military children. Only New York, New Hampshire and Minnesota have yet to adopt similar legislation, though all are currently considering it.

“I consider every move to a new school district stressful,” said Coast Guard Cmdr. Brenda White of Seaside. “The compact makes it a little bit easier.”

Her stepdaughter had been staying with her mother in New York state and moved to Seaside in 2012 after her father had transferred there. Her transfer to Seaside High School for her senior year left her a little behind on the graduation requirements. In order to graduate on time, she had to play catch-up on a community service project that many students start in their sophomore or junior years.

If the compact had been in place, she could have had the option to graduate under the requirements of her previous high school.

The compact relaxes some of the school requirements for military children, including children of Oregon National Guard members who are on active-duty orders. For example, the compact ensures students stay in the same grade when they transfer, even if the new school says they should be in a different one because of their age. The rules allow students in honors programs to stay in those programs at their new schools and promises those with accommodations due to a disability will get similar support in their new schools.

It adds “a layer of support for specific challenges military families face,” said Denise Feldbush, a program specialist who assists Coast Guard members and families at Sector Columbia River in Warrenton.

The interstate agreement started in 2008 with 10 states and could have all 50 signed on by the end of this year, said Mark San Souci, the Pentagon's liaison to the Northwest states. It's one of about a dozen issues that the Defense Department is asking states to help address as it focuses on quality of life issues for service members, veterans and their families, he said.

Though Oregon ranks among the states with the lowest population of active-duty military personnel, there were still more than 1,400 active-duty service members stationed here in 2013 — mainly in the Coast Guard — and about 1,800 military children. As many as a third of Oregon's active-duty personnel relocate each year, said Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, chairman of the Veterans and Emergency Preparedness Committee, which requested the bill.

For Coast Guard members, the moves usually happen in the summer months, but for some military families, transfer orders can come on short notice and require them to move in the middle of the school year. In addition to cutting through administrative red tape, the compact allows military children who transfer too late for things like National Honor Society inductions or athletic tryouts to still join those activities, San Souci said.

Boquist said some lawmakers had been concerned about the cost of implementing the program. But he said the program is expected to cost $1 per student, or a minimum of $2,000 a year, the same rate that other member states pay. The money pays dues for membership to the interstate commission.

The measure, SB 1506, also sets up a panel of volunteers to coordinate between state agencies, school districts and military installations. It directs the governor to appoint a commissioner to oversee the program and a military education liaison to work with military families in the state.

The bill passed unanimously in both chambers of the Legislature. The governor's spokeswoman, Rachel Wray, said he'll sign the bill.

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Reach reporter Chad Garland on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/chadgarland

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