Sequestration 2013: Are We Abandoning Military Children, Our Littlest Heroes?

The Global War On Terrorism has surpassed the conflicts of the 20th century to now rank as our nation’s second longest war. Yet, we sequester. Repeated deployments with insufficient "dwell time" between have created stress on service members, their families, and their larger support systems including the Department of Veterans' Affairs. Yet, still, we sequester.

While there is growing evidence that our school-aged military-dependent children are under severe emotional and academic stress, Congress speeds toward a sequestration deadline that will cut off a life line meant to help our littlest heroes.

According to the Department of Defense, there are 1.2 million military-dependent children.  48% of military service members have children. Of the 63% of school age children, 92% attend America’s public, charter, private, independent, and parochial schools. Consistent with the findings in the Secondary Education Transition Study (SETS), DoD data indicates that military children move an average of every 2.9 years or three times more frequently than their civilian classmates. Furthermore, according to the Extending Connections to Military Children report, 40-60% of students are chronically disengaged from school by the time they reach high school and 50% ultimately drop out entirely.

Our military-dependent children suffer from autism at a much higher rate than do their civilian peers. The Government Accounting Office urged Congress to give the DoD the needed financial resources to screen military children and to keep them stateside if necessary. Yet when Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) reacted with the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act to lift restrictions on treatment for the estimated 20,000 military dependent children living with autism, Congress reacted by voting for amendment, making the act a "one year pilot."

Ignoring the needs of our military dependent children in peacetime speaks volumes about Congress as a whole. Ignoring them in a time of war speaks directly to the values of each and every member elected to the most powerful legislative body the world has ever known. To sequester our littlest heroes is unconscionable.

Since 1950, Congress has provided federal funds known as Impact Aid to selected local school districts responsible for educating "federally-connected children" that have lost property tax revenue due to tax-exempt federal property within their district. In other words, this is not a handout. Impact Aid is fair. It helps offset the financial hardships schools endure when there is significant government owned property in their district.

These funds help school districts pay for supportive services for our military-dependent children. Those services range from tutoring to speech therapy and other programs designed to help them thrive in their new environment. In true Washington fashion, Impact Aid has been allowed to wither on the vine. In fact, the Department of Education is six years in arrears on Impact Aid payments to school districts. Congress has for years funded the program at 60% of need as defined in law. Over the past nine years, due to inflation, the program has lost one-third of its purchasing power. And because Impact Aid is the only education program not “forward funded” sequestration will deliver the death blow almost immediately.

Heather Beaven is the CEO of The Florida Endowment Foundation for Florida's Graduates, a 501(c)(3) designed to help students move successfully into young adulthood.