July 19, 2011

Manchin, others want improvements at Defense Dept. dependents schools | Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va.-- Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and 11 other U.S. senators sent a letter to new Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta on Tuesday, asking that improvements be made at deteriorating schools that teach 86,000 children at military facilities in the United States and around the world.

The Center for Public Integrity recently completed a report assessing infrastructure and building conditions in 189 schools in the United States, Europe and the Pacific region.

The report found 80 percent of those military schools face serious problems: 76 schools were "failing" and should be considered for replacement, while another 73 schools were "under-maintained." 

"Our service members and their families sacrifice so much for this country, so the last thing that our country should do is send their children to failing schools," Manchin said. "The children of our brave service members absolutely deserve the best education that we can give them, which is why I was so concerned to see that so many of our Defense Department schools are in disrepair." 

The Center for Public Integrity's report also discovered overcrowding and a growing use of temporary facilities. Many Department of Defense Dependents Schools use boiler rooms, trailers, hallways and closets as "makeshift classrooms or workspaces," it added.

In their letter, the 12 senators wrote, "Military children often contend with long separations from a parent and numerous school transitions. Our military children should have educational facilities that enhance their learning, not facilities that cause distractions from learning or present real or potential hazards.  .  .  .

"Our nation has an obligation to provide a quality learning environment for all military children. As such, we strongly urge you to make the maintenance, repair and safety of . . . schools a high priority as you prepare the Department of Defense budget for future years."

The other senators who signed Tuesday's letter to Panetta were: Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawaii; Mark Begich, D-Alaska.; Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif,: Scott Brown, R-Mass.; Richard Burr, R-N.C.; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.; Bill Nelson, D-Fla.; Bernard Sanders, I-Vt.; Olympia Snowe, R-Maine; and Mark Warner, D-Va. 

Sanders and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., are long-time critics of federal government failures to repair and maintain government buildings, as well as the nation's roads, highways and railroads.

By:  Paul J. Nyden