Opinion: If Georgia doesn’t improve its schools, military could take its bases and billions elsewhere

If Georgia wants to keep military installations in the state, a state rep and retired military officer says we have to improve our schools.

State Rep. Dave Belton, R-Buckhead, is a retired major in the United States Air Force. He’s now an international pilot for Delta Air Lines. Belton served on the Morgan County school board for eight years and has a long interest in education and youth issues, leading the effort for  “Caleb’s Law,” which bans texting while driving.

He chairs the Military Affairs Committee in the House, which has been looking at ways to keep military bases in the state. A key factor, he says, is improving our schools.

By Dave Belton

Georgia has the fifth largest military population in America with an economic impact of nearly $20 billion a year. Providing 150,000 jobs and indirectly employing almost a third of a million Georgians, the Department of Defense is Georgia’s largest single employer.

With so much at stake, Georgia cannot afford to ignore our military, especially as rival states budget millions of dollars every year to protect their installations.

The economic risks are very real. Just this year – without any warnings – the Army cut more than 3,000 soldiers from Fort Benning and plan to cut even more in 2018, a decision that will cost Columbus $1.8 billion every year.

Just last week, a bill was filed in Washington to start a new round of base closures, a move that both Sen. John McCain and the president publicly approve of.

The Pentagon has been begging to close bases for years now, something Congress has steadfastly refused. But the mood is different now. President Donald Trump has vowed to rebuild the military. But like all big businessmen (Big Banks, Big Pharma, Big Airlines), he wants to save money by reducing infrastructure to offset his big “ask” for even more money.

Base closures aren’t a theory anymore –  they are a reality. My House committee has studied the problem for almost a year now. Senior military officials told us the greatest liability Georgia is its K-12 education.

Compared to other military-rich states, we rank at the bottom in terms of K-12 education and spend very little (37th out of 50 states) per child. The Pentagon has noticed, commenting, “If communities do not offer soldiers’ children a consistently high-quality education, they risk the economic challenges that result from losing support of a major employer.”

If Georgia wants to keep our bases, it should consider investing more in K-12.

Fixing K-12 education is a Herculean task, as it occupies 38 percent of the state budget. Three counties that surround the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany — realizing they could easily lose the $1.5 billion a year the base provides them — wisely agreed to let the children who live on the base go to any school within those three counties. That agreement could be replicated around the state, creating military-friendly flagship schools that could meet those children’s unique needs.

It is a documented fact that 32 percent of military children score as “high-risk” for behavioral and mental health concerns, three times the national average. I was a military child who saw my father go away to Vietnam. Having a parent gone for a year at a time would disrupt any family. Add the ever-present threat that the deployed parent may perish at any moment…it’s a dilemma that would challenge the stoutest of hearts.

Military children move every two years, creating even more problems as they replace new friends in new environments over and over again. They also move from state to state, meaning they find themselves way ahead or behind every time they move.

And it’s a sad truth that many soldiers bring post traumatic stress disorder home to their families. It’s no wonder the military sees K-12 education as their top issue.

We show our appreciation for the military in many ways, applauding them at football games and ceremonies and parades. But if we really cared about these brave men and women — who suffer and die for us — we would do the very best we can for their patiently waiting children. The money we risk if we fail to act — $20 billion — is a colossal deal, but the biggest risk is not preparing the next generation. That cost is immeasurable.

Georgia needs to do better.

 

Reader Comments 0

18 comments
Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

"The military has been begging to close bases for years, something Congress has steadfastly refused."

The level of political influence has far more effect on the decision to close a military base than the quality of schools around it.  The military has been forced to buy planes, ships, and other equipment, not because they needed it, but because the factory was in some politician's district.

Interesting that the author also brought up Albany, GA.  You know, Dougherty County, the OTHER majority black school system that was caught changing test sheets during the time of the APS cheating scandal.

Maybe the military should do something useful, you know, like defend the border from all the ILLEGAL ALIEN INVADERS??

FredinDeKalb
FredinDeKalb

**Compared to other military-rich states, we rank at the bottom in terms of K-12 education and spend very little (37th out of 50 states) per child. The Pentagon has noticed, commenting, “If communities do not offer soldiers’ children a consistently high-quality education, they risk the economic challenges that result from losing support of a major employer.”**


I found this statement most interesting.  I wonder what the DSW2 gang would think of this.

gapeach101
gapeach101

Seems to me if "32 percent of military children score as “high-risk” for behavioral and mental health concerns", the military should be  kicking in more funding for the local schools.

Charlotte Manning Harrell
Charlotte Manning Harrell

Of late, I have decided that perhaps we should eliminate the National Department of Education and go back to basics. Soon after I entered education, I saw why teachers were so discouraged. From one school year to the next, the teachers were given new "wonderful" methods for teaching and the teachers had less and less control over what and how they taught. Most of my teachers were pretty good even though I attended rural schools.

Bruce Kendall
Bruce Kendall

By way of experience, observation, and study it appears that academic success bears more fruit when the responsibility for it, starts and ends at home. That stated, it is important to remember that Teachers and others have important roles in the Combined Education Team. Both the military and K-12 schools requires teamwork across multiple disciplines of expertise to be successful. When there is a weak or broken link, the military and schools take different approaches. The service repairs, replaces, or rebuilds the link. Schools regretfully, do not. NAEP assessment data from 1971 forward indicates the continued building of weaker and weaker links. Future weak links are currently being assessed, or is in the process of finishing. Are there coconspirators to building weaker links? Yes, five of them, all outside the control or influence of schools..... I will have to finish this another day. There is enough material here for a novella.

Kathy Brown
Kathy Brown

Down here in Warner Robins Georgia, home of Robins AFB we used to have the "paperwork" to prove how our school system values our military kids. In fact we have a retired chief who has sat on the BOE for over 20years, which I'm sure helps to check off some boxes. What is interesting, over half of our schools are categorized as Title I. Meaning, even with the great paying jobs that is associated with the base, we have a high rate of free or reduced lunches. Title I schools are the schools most likely not to make the "passing" mark compared to non Title I schools on high stakes tests. The EDUCATION PROCESS for administrators is about the MONEY, not the kids.

Beth Day
Beth Day

Georgia invest more in education? Lolz. Take over and give tax money to private businesses that run schools? Oh yes. But not more revenue to schools. Seriously, this has been the plan all along. Demonstrate that military will leave if no take over.

Ben Bryant
Ben Bryant

It could but won't; Ft. Benning's been operating since 1918, whether or not the surrounding schools are any good won't really matter. Ft. Benning's longevity and viability is based on it's location and the army didn't pull the tanks out of Ft. Knox, relocate them to Benning and add 87 thousand acres to the base a few years ago just to pack up and leave.

Starik
Starik

If the public schools are bad the military should run its own schools. Isn't that what they did in the South for years?

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Just so the reading audience understands:

In the evolution of the human mind and spirit, schools and education will exist when the military has become obsolete. Love overcomes hate, and peace will overcome war.

We should improve Georgia's schools because we care about students, teachers, and excellence, and not because we have been placed under duress and fear. The business model for schools exists in fear and duress. The educational model exists in care, love for children, and thirst for intellectual excellence.

Robin J Richards
Robin J Richards

Given that military families are among the most transient groups around, which can lead to the same effects that poverty can bring to non-transient groups, I don't think the problem is within the states themselves here. That said, I have had a few military kids in my room and they're among the most hard working kids I've seen given the circumstances.

Astropig
Astropig

I really hope that the military puts its heft behind more choice.The Pentagon has a budget and the influence to get things done (as well as some cool personal assault weapons).


When excuses won't do,what do they default to?-Choice!

DecaturRags
DecaturRags

What will happen are Charter school vouchers on military campuses. Money will be drained from the public schools and put into charter schools with the best facilities and best teachers for the military children. We will have charter schools for rich kids and military kids and and the average ability__or under-served___are left behind, but still pay for it with tax money. Read Bookman column Sunday on the hijinks of two Marietta pols.

DecaturRags
DecaturRags

So take all the money that they spend on pomp and ceremony at these games and donate it to the schools where military kids go to school.

kaelyn
kaelyn

I'm not against school choice for military kids or any other students. The problem I see is there just aren't enough good schools to choose from in the first place. "There are over 100,000 students in County X and only 20,000 seats in high performing schools. If 60,000 students want to leave their home schools to attend these better schools, how many will be offered a seat? Show all work and negative numbers will not earn credit."

Less than mediocre public K-12 education is a problem for everyone in this state, not just military families. I wouldn't be surprised at all if companies looking to relocate here soon start asking for school choice for their employees.

Theresa Pinilla
Theresa Pinilla

Did has the ability to open and run its own schools, if they think they have the solutions...

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

So with his school board, and international flying, and military experience, his only suggestion to improve schools is school choice? I was hoping for something better.

Carol Sheridan Dial
Carol Sheridan Dial

Schools are not the problem. Poverty and interference from people who don't understand schools are the problem. So go somewhere else. You'll have the same problems wherever you go.