Many public schools on military bases get poor or failing report card

Pentagon ranks nearly 40 percent of schools 'poor' or 'failing'

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A deteriorating roof at Clarkmoor Elementary at Fort Lewis, Washington.

Emma Schwartz/iWatch News

A substantial number of public schools on military bases are in either poor or failing condition, and many are overcrowded, a new report card by the Defense Department shows.

The latest data adds to the grim portrait of dilapidated and undersized schools described in an iWatch News investigation, which found that three in four Pentagon-run schools are either beyond repair or would require extensive renovation to meet minimum standards for safety, quality, accessibility and design.

Where military children go to school depends on circumstances often beyond families’ control. More than 500,000 children, the largest proportion, live off base, attending local schools in urban or suburban communities that often have significantly more resources.

But families who live on military installations — either for economic, career or security reasons — send their children to one of 194 base schools operated by the Pentagon around the world, or 159 base schools in the U.S. operated by local school districts. These students — about 150,000 in all — are likely to attend schools with significant structural deficiencies.

The latest Pentagon report card on schools where sons and daughters of military personnel are starting classes focuses on the public schools on military bases. The report identifies nearly 40 percent that are in “poor” or “failing” condition.

Altogether, 62 of the 157 public schools on military bases that were inspected by the Pentagon were in either poor or failing condition. And 28 schools—including many of those in poor or failing condition —were over capacity by at least 15 percent and sometimes as much as 30 percent.

[Full rankings of the public schools can be seen here. Rankings of Pentagon-run schools are here. The Pentagon’s explanation of its rankings can be found here]

Among the schools with the worst rankings in the report was Geronimo Road Elementary at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, one of the schools highlighted in an iWatchNews video about Catie Hunter, a fifth grader whose father has been deployed multiple times. At her school, she must navigate between garbage bins collecting water from the roof in order to class. The school also has mold on some of its walls, and cracks can be seen along a hallway. The report listed Geronimo Road's condition as failing.

"We are using the results of these assessments to determine how to best leverage the considerable assets of the Defense Department and related government agencies to improve education opportunities for military children," said Maj. Monica Matoush, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

Among other schools in poor condition were several elementary schools at Fort Lewis in Washington state, including Hillside, Greenwood and Clarkmoor elementary school.

Worst-ranking facilities are eligible for grants to make repairs, but the total amount available, $250 million, is not likely to make much of a difference any time soon.

Bringing military-run schools up to standards would cost nearly $4 billion. Local districts would need another $1 billion

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., in a statement, said the grants would send an important message. “This $250 million down payment on fixing the failing infrastructure at schools on U.S. military installations is a very important signal that we will not allow these conditions to continue," she said.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in a statement, stressed the military’s commitment to the sons and daughters of U.S. service personnel. “High quality facilities and instruction are essential,” he said.

The iWatchNews investigation in June revealed an array of substandard conditions at many of the 353 schools for military children worldwide. Three in four Defense Department-run schools on military installations are either beyond repair or would require extensive renovation to meet minimum standards for safety, quality, accessibility and design, the iWatchNews probe found. Schools run by public-school systems on Army posts don’t fare much better: 39 percent fail to meet even the military’s own standards, according to a 2010 Army report. 

The National Military Family Association applauded the Pentagon’s grant program, but said that the location education agencies should shoulder some of the fiscal responsibility.