Education compact would help military children

By Kevin Wilson, Freedom New Mexico

As military installations such as Cannon Air Force Base receive new personnel from other installations, the Department of Defense is asking, “But what about the children?”

A transition to a new base can be difficult for school-aged children in military families, according to Jim Rickel, a quality of life regional liaison for the DoD, and the department is working on an educational compact to take care of state-to-state differences in schools.

Rickel was addressing the New Mexico Military Base Planning Committee on Thursday at Eastern New Mexico University.

The compact, which has been approved by eight states and is currently awaiting approval from Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, would help smooth out differences between schools that could make graduation and college entrance difficult for students who move due to military orders.

Rickel gave a hypothetical situation of a student involved in the New Mexico school system and taking New Mexico history as a graduation requirement. If that student’s family moves for an assignment in Illinois, that student is now hamstrung because they must take Illinois history instead. A compact, Rickel said, would allow for trade-offs in that situation.

“It’s just to focus on conflicts,” Rickel said. “It’s not to water down graduation requirements for any state.”

The DoD started working on the compact in 2006 with the Council of State Governments, and finished it in November of last year. The biggest reason the compact hasn’t been approved in New Mexico yet, Rickel said, was that a short legislative session didn’t allow for its introduction.

Rickel said New Mexico has generally been supportive of the military in legislation (i.e. in-state tuition for children in military families) and figures it would be approved in 2009.

“I don’t see a lot of opposition,” Rickel said. “This is for the benefit of our military school-aged children.”

Commission Vice Chair Randy Harris said a compact would be welcome in eastern New Mexico.

“Those things have mainly been handled one-on-one,” Harris said. “It’s good to see a concentrated effort, not only statewide but nationally.”

Rickel said the measure would depend on state and federal funding, but that the structure required would be in the neighborhood of $1 per military school-age student.