Education of Military Dependent Students:

Better Information Needed to Assess Student Performance

GAO-11-231: Published: Mar 1, 2011. Publicly Released: Mar 1, 2011.

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Since the early 1990s, Congress has supplemented the Department of Education's (Education) Impact Aid program by providing funds for the Department of Defense's (DOD) Impact Aid program to compensate school districts with a high number of military dependent students. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 required GAO to review the use of these funds. GAO reviewed (1) what is known about the utilization and effectiveness of DOD Impact Aid funds, (2) the challenges faced by school districts in serving military dependent students, and (3) how DOD and Education have collaborated on their assistance. To address these issues, GAO conducted a Web-based survey of all 154 school districts that received DOD Impact Aid in any year from 2001 to 2009, with a response rate of 77 percent. GAO also interviewed officials from DOD and Education and seven school districts in five states, ranging in school district size, location, and percentage of military dependent students. The findings from these visits cannot be projected nationwide, but illustrate valuable perspectives.

DOD Impact Aid has three distinct funding components, with more than three quarters of the funds provided through the DOD Impact Aid Supplemental program. Eighty five percent of the 87 responding school districts that received funds for the 2009-2010 school year reported placing these funds into their general fund to use for overall maintenance and operations. Because there are no reporting requirements on districts' use of the funding, it is difficult to assess how the funds are used and to what extent military dependent students benefit. Further, there are no data available on these students that could be used to assess their academic achievement or educational outcomes, or determine where funding needs are greatest. Such reporting requirements exist for certain other groups of students, such as economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities. Federal agency officials acknowledged this need for information, and Education has begun discussing how to address this need. School districts GAO contacted reported that issues related to the mobility of military dependent students and serving students with special needs were among the greatest challenges they faced in serving these students. Mobility increased academic needs due to differences in state and district curricula and behavioral and emotional issues in the classroom. To address challenges in serving military dependent students, school districts reported adopting a range of strategies, including additional counseling for students with a deployed parent and flexibility on academic requirements for newly transferred students. Guided by a memorandum of understanding signed in 2008, DOD and Education have implemented practices that facilitate their collaboration to assist military dependent students, according to practices GAO has identified that enhance collaboration. For example, beginning in 2008, the departments completed eight joint site visits to high-growth military installations, which helped them advise school districts on preparation for an influx of military dependent students. To monitor these collaborative efforts, DOD and Education have developed a strategic plan that tracks their progress. GAO recommends that the Secretary of Education determine whether to require school districts to report data on the academic outcomes of military dependent students, and if so, to determine the need for any additional legislative authority. Education agreed with GAO's recommendation, and DOD provided oral concurrence.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2011, the Department of Education issued a report titled "Strengthening Our Military Families: Meeting America's Commitment," that proposed improving data collection on military students through the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). The Department proposed requiring states and school districts that receive ESEA Title I, Part A funds to report aggregated data on military students' academic achievement. Subsequently, in 2012, the Department reported that it sent legislative language to the cognizant House and Senate committees on February 17, 2011 to improve the reporting of military students' achievement data.

    Recommendation: To better understand the needs of military students and the effectiveness of strategies to assist them, the Secretary of Education, in collaboration with the Secretary of Defense, should determine whether to require school districts to identify military dependent students as a distinct subgroup for reporting on their academic outcomes, such as test scores and high school graduation rates. This should include determining whether the Department of Education needs to obtain any additional legislative authority for this requirement, and seeking it from Congress, if necessary.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education


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