In front of a few dozen members of the armed forces and their families, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a proclamation Tuesday marking the Month of the Military Child. It came as a piece of legislation about school choice for military children landed on his desk.
Georgia “is a state that is appreciative of the fact that we do have so many military installations and so many of our citizens who serve in uniform. This year in the General Assembly there were a number of pieces of legislation that paid tribute and made changes to support those military families,” said Deal, just before signing the ceremonial proclamation in the lobby of the state Capitol.
Maj. Gen. Joe Jarrard, adjutant general of the Georgia National Guard, outlined what parental military service means for children.
"We've seen them cry when we’ve gone on a deployment. And so the older they get they realize that may be the last time they see their parents. And then about the time they get used to some of their friends in high school, you say, ‘Hey it's time we moved,’ and they've got to put up with that. ... They are very resilient people,” Jarrard said.
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The proclamation urges Georgians to celebrate and recognize the sacrifices that military children make.
The military — and worries about a possible round of the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission — is a topic that’s been on some state lawmakers’ minds lately. One of the things that’s thought to make communities more attractive to the U.S. Department of Defense is friendly treatment to the folks who get posted to Georgia and to their children.
Some have called for military “school choice:” let military children attend any K-12 school, no matter their address.
One of the bills on Deal’s desk specifies that parents who who live in military housing on or off base could send their children to any school in their district, provided space is available. The bill directs city or county school districts to notify those military parents about the choice and set up a streamlined, universal process for transfers.
After the ceremony, when asked about the bill, Deal said, “It is a step in the right direction, I suppose, for those who say that all children, regardless of the status of their parents, should have the right to choose the school which they wish to attend. It is a discussion and a debate that is worth engaging in.”
He said he’s heard from people who feel that it’s a deterrent to military families if the schools their children are asked to attend are “not up to par.” He said at Fort Gordon, for example, he’s been told a significant number of military personnel don’t live in Richmond County where the base is located, but live in Columbia County or even Aiken, South Carolina.
“Once again, they attributed that to the quality of the schools that the children of these military personnel would be allowed to attend,” Deal said. “It is one of those issues that quite frankly I think plays into the overall BRAC formula of who's going to have an installation closed.”
But the governor mentioned another bill on his desk, one that would give a new state school turnaround officer power to intervene in the state’s lowest-performing schools.
“In the broader sense of things obviously I would like for us to have an even more detailed discussion about the quality of schools in general, and I commend the Legislature for their action this year in taking a significant step forward to address those schools that are definitely underperforming,” Deal said.
Fans of military school choice say parents who are transferring students into Georgia schools ought to be able to pick one that matches offerings from their previous schools, such as ROTC programs or certain languages.
But some lawmakers say their communities’ schools are good choices, and they don’t want a statewide bill on what they say are local problems in other communities.
A spokeswoman for Houston County schools said Superintendent Mark Scott is out of the office this week. Asked about the bill during the legislative session, the spokeswoman said the system was following the school choice proposal but that Scott did not plan any interviews on the topic.
Maggie Lee: @maggie_a_lee