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(Lakewood, WA) – Today at Woodbrook Middle School in Lakewood, Senator Patty Murray announced a new proposal to help schoolchildren of military personnel. Murray was joined by the Mayor of Lakewood, students, teachers, parents, counselors, and the superintendents from Clover Park, Central Kitsap and Bethel school districts.

As Washington's military bases gain and lose personnel due to deployments and the Pentagon's new realignment plan, schools near military bases -- and the children of military personnel -- are being impacted.

Some school districts (including Bethel and Central Kitsap) will have to cope with a dramatic and rapid increase in enrollment. They will need to hire new teachers and find new classroom space quickly – under tight budgets and without any additional federal support. Other school districts, such as Clover Park, will lose hundreds of students and be forced to close schools, greatly disrupting local communities.

In addition, studies show that children of military personnel often struggle academically while their parents are deployed overseas. These students need additional counseling and support, but many schools are not equipped to provide that support.

To address those challenges, Senator Murray wrote a plan to minimize the impact of these military changes on local schools and students. Her plan will also ensure that children of military personnel get the monitoring, support and counseling they need so they don't fall behind.

Senator Murray's remarks follow:

I am proud to be here today to talk about an issue near to my heart and critically important to communities across our state – helping our schools and our students succeed during a time of war.

While our entire country has been impacted by the effects of September 11th and our military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, military children have born a unique burden. Children of military families deal with special challenges at home and at school. We know that children under the stress of deployment are affected academically, socially, and emotionally.

Imagine having to study for a math test or try out for the basketball team while also dealing with the impacts of a mom or dad who has been deployed, or has come home seriously injured or with post-traumatic stress disorder or - the unthinkable happens - and that parent does not come home.

Since our children spend the majority of their days at school, these challenges have become the challenges of schools like Woodbrook Middle School and their teachers, academic counselors and student bodies.

But many of our schools and school districts don’t have the resources or tools necessary to deal with the increased counseling, discipline and tutorial costs associated with students who fall behind academically or are dealing with the emotional effects of a military conflict.

And for many of our schools these challenges are brand new.

School districts across Washington state and particularly here – close to Ft. Lewis and McChord – have had to deal with these new challenges as they have seen dramatic changes in enrollment due to: deployments, force structure realignments and the continuing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For example, the 4th Stryker Brigade has been moved to Fort Lewis, bringing over 1,000 school age children into the Bethel School District.

This was an unforeseen realignment and the schools don’t have the capacity to handle this influx on their own. With force realignment due to overseas base closures, both McChord Air Force Base and Fort Lewis are prime candidates for adding personnel.

So, Bethel is now facing an influx of students with emotional, academic and behavioral challenges without the proper resources to help their new students.

We are seeing similar impacts in the Kitsap school districts. The Kitsap school districts are the most military impacted school districts in the state. The BRAC announcement just two weeks ago told us that we will have 1,400 new positions added to Bremerton. These positions will mean more students entering Kitsap schools. We need to provide the resources to help these new students to succeed.

That is why, when the Senate returns to D.C., I will introduce an amendment to the Defense bill to help school districts like Bethel deal with their changing enrollments and the needs of their students.

My amendment will authorize the Secretary of Defense to provide funding for school districts like Bethel to provide more counselors, tutoring, and teacher training in how to identify and respond to emotional needs common in children who have a parent in wartime deployment.

My bill will also help districts who are losing students due to deployments and realignments – as is the case for Clover Park school district.

When soldiers deploy for the Middle East, their families often leave the military base communities to return to their comfort zone and support network. Sometimes that means moving back to their home town – sometimes that means moving to be closer to other relatives.

The end result is that schools near the military bases have their impact aid funding reduced, when many of the children are likely to return.

Another issue we are facing is due to the elimination of more than 300 on-base housing units at McChord Air Force Base, through the Military Housing Privatization Program.

There is very little off-base housing currently available within the school district that educates these children.

Consequently, this single proposal is projected to:

  • Cost the Clover Park School District over $1 million in Impact Aid funding,
  • Cause the closure of at least one school, and
  • Force the remaining children – many of them military dependents – into overcrowded classrooms.

My amendment will authorize funds for these school districts to make sure that they do not lose federal funding because of a sudden and dramatic decline in students from military families.

We need to help bolster these schools in hard times and make sure that the students who remain are not forced into overcrowded classrooms because the school districts can no longer afford to pay enough teachers.

I have been all across our state and the one thing I hear over and over again from Washington residents is – tell our troops that we support them and their families.

Our communities here in Washington have been great, supportive places for our military families to be.

I’ve heard stories about neighbors helping mothers who have been left alone get their grocery shopping done or watch the children.

Just a few weeks ago I gave an award to a father from Yakima who had lost a son in Iraq, but he used his own tragedy to motivate to start a foundation that provides scholarships for the children of fallen service members. And tonight, I will present a Purple Heart medal to a young man from Renton who was severely injured in Iraq.

There are so many ways in which individuals and communities are stepping up to help in times of stress, but our communities also need help from our federal government. The burden of our military children is one that as adults, community leaders, teachers and politicians, we must try to alleviate. That is what I will fight for with my amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill in the Senate and that is what our leaders and school administrators are trying to do here on a daily basis.