As the Defense Department weighs spending needs in the face of a budget crunch, a bipartisan group of Senators is urging Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to clean up schools on U.S. military bases that are reportedly falling apart from leaks, corrosion, and mold, not to mention the pressures of overcrowding and a reliance on temporary facilities.
The Department of Defense estimates it will cost $3.7 billion through 2016 to bring 134 of its schools to a "fair" or "good" standing in its self-developed ranking system. The Senators said in a letter sent Monday they want Panetta to make the repairs a "high priority."
"Our military children should have educational facilities that enhance their learning, not facilities that cause distractions from learning or present real or potential hazards." wrote Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Richard Burr, R-N.C., co-chairs of the Senate Military Family Caucus.
Defense department schools are run by the DoDEA or Department of Defense Education Activity, a civilian agency that oversees all schools on U.S. military bases. More than 86,000 students attend 192 DoDEA schools in 12 foreign countries, 7 U.S. states, Guam, and Puerto Rico.
At the start of the 2010-2011 school year, the DoDEA reported that 70 percent of its schools were considered "poor" or "failing." That's a slight improvement from the 2009 DoDEA report the Senators quoted in their letter that 79 percent of schools were considered "poor" or "failing."
The agency received $439 million last year to start its renovation project, but a set amount of money every year is not guaranteed.
The DoDEA is scheduled to receive $484 million for the coming year, but the proposed $671 billion defense budget has already faced multiple cuts in Congress and any drop in funding could slow the agency's renovation plans.