Coburn Criticizes Senate for Blocking Proposal to Cut $39G Cost Per Student on Military Bases

The cash-strapped U.S. government could start saving $39,000 per student of military families by sending them to public schools -- if only the proposal could get a vote.

That's the argument from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who says he's been stymied in his efforts to attach an amendment to a massive defense funding bill that would overhaul the way Washington finances education for children on military bases.

Currently, the Pentagon operates nearly 200 on-base schools around the world. Sixty-three of them are in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

According to Coburn's office, the Pentagon is spending an average of $51,000 per student per year to attend the U.S. schools on military bases. That figure is sure to rise as the Defense Department endeavors to repair the glut of schools that are in deteriorating conditions, though the military estimates the per-pupil cost is far lower than Coburn's figures show.

Coburn has proposed shutting down the U.S. schools, and sending students to nearby schools in the local communities to get their education. In exchange, his amendment would allow the defense secretary to send up to $12,000 per student every year to the schools that take those students --- in turn saving the government $1 billion over five years, according to Coburn.

However, Coburn claims the Senate -- which is trying to fast-track a host of budget bills, including the defense bill -- will not take up his plan.

Coburn spokesman John Hart blamed Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid for limiting the number of amendments, accusing him of being "AWOL" in the debate over deficit reduction.

"It highlights the complete dysfunction of Congress and particularly the Senate," Hart told

Reid's office has not responded to a request for comment.

The proposal comes after the bipartisan committee tasked with reducing long-term deficits broke apart without a deal. Hart said Coburn may still pursue his military schools plan if he can't tack it onto the defense bill.

"It's something we may come back to," he said.

The current cost cited by Coburn's office is not what the Defense Department's education office estimates. Figures provided by the office show the per-pupil cost at between $14,712 and $16,260, depending on the grade.

According to Coburn's office, 26,000 students are taught on the Pentagon-run bases. Dozens of other on-base schools are run by local school districts.

In both categories, official reports in recent years have found many of the schools are in poor or failing condition.

Among Pentagon-run facilities in the U.S., a 2009 report found nearly 80 percent of them are in poor or failing condition -- meaning they're either "under-maintained" or in need of being completely replaced.

A Center for Public Integrity report earlier this year detailed the problems on the military-base schools, cataloguing a host of structural problems at the facilities.

At one school, the walls were infested with termites, at another heaters were known to break down in cold weather. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has pledged to address the structural problems, but according to the report, it would cost nearly $4 billion to repair everything.

That leaves the government with the option of either pumping more money into the system or, in the case of Coburn's plan, closing the schools and sending students elsewhere.

Many of the schools are more than 40 years old. Many of the Pentagon-run facilities were originally built so that students on-base could attend racially integrated schools in some districts in the South where off-base schools were still segregated.

Coburn's proposal would not affect schools in Puerto Rico.