Whether or not school systems and state professional licensing requirements are friendly to military kids and spouses will help officials choose where to station future troops, the Pentagon’s top civilian officials wrote in a letter last week.

Transferring a student to a new school district, and “license reciprocity,” whether or not professional licenses held by military spouses are accepted state-to-state, are the two top drawbacks to military service cited by families, the Army, Air Force and Navy service secretaries said in a Feb. 23 letter to the National Governors Association.

“With that in mind, we will encourage leadership to consider the quality of schools near bases and whether reciprocity of professional license is available for military families when evaluating future basing or mission alternatives,” they wrote.

The letter was signed by Richard Spencer, Navy secretary, Mark Esper, Army secretary, and Heather Wilson, secretary of the Air Force.

Officials in all 50 states and the District of Columbia have signed into law a document known as the “military child education compact,” which is meant to make school transfers easier for military kids. All 50 states and the District also have passed some kind of military spouse license portability legislation, although the licenses impacted and the kind of help offered varies widely. Some states also struggle with enforcement or communication to users of both the compact and licensure help.

The secretaries, however, highlighted in the letter specific education issues that are not addressed in the compact at all, such as exclusion from extracurricular activities for military children. This is a problem that many military children face because they arrive at a duty station after those programs have been filled or school sports teams have held tryouts. And because license reciprocity varies widely state to state, spouses continue to face challenges.

The service secretaries said in their letter that school and career issues are enough of a problem that they deserve the attention of state and local officials.

“Eliminating or mitigating these barriers will improve quality of life for our military families, and ease the stress of transferring duty stations with consideration for long-term career implications,” they wrote. “Over the long term … leaders who want to make a difference for the military and our missions will make the most impact if we focus on what matters. Reciprocity on licensure and the quality of education matter.”

A military family advocate with the National Military Family Association (NMFA), which has worked on both the education compact and spouse licensure issues, said she is pleased to see both of these issues getting the attention of the service secretaries.

“I thought it was great that they raised these specific issues as important to military families’ qualify of life,” said Eileen Huck, a deputy director of government relations for the organization. “I hope that states take this to heart. If you want your community to be appealing to military families, these are issues that you need to look at.”

This isn’t the first time Pentagon officials have said school quality will factor into future basing issues. In late 2013, then-Army chief Gen. Ray Odierno said school quality would impact the Army’s decisions. The service began by launching a survey into Army family school satisfaction.

It was not immediately clear whether or not the results of that survey were ever used by Army officials.

“I get governors and I get congressmen asking all the time what they can do for me, and I’m going to tell them what they can do for me,” Odierno said at the time. “If they want to keep the military in their communities they better start paying attention to the schools that are outside and inside our installations. Because as we evaluate, as we make decisions on future force structure, that will be one of the criteria.”

— Amy Bushatz can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @AmyBushatz.

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