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NATIONAL HARBOR, MD. — Current law and the tight federal budget climate don’t always allow defense officials to exempt family programs from cutbacks, but officials “still have made it a priority to protect them to every extent possible,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told a group of educators, parents and other advocates for military children.
But he made no promises that such programs would remain untouched, noting that DoD’s priority must be supporting troops in Afghanistan and around the world, and protecting the nation’s security.
While officials have made it a priority to protect family programs as much as possible, “that doesn’t mean we won’t have to make some tough decisions that will affect military families,” said Hagel, speaking at the national training seminar for the Military Child Education Coaltion on July 9.
“We teach our children to tell the truth. … So I’m going to be honest with you about the challenges DoD is facing, particularly when it comes to our new fiscal realities,” Hagel said, explaining that fiscal pressures and a “gridlocked political process” have led to abrupt, deep reductions in the budget, forcing DoD to cut $37 billion by the end of September.
About 70 percent of married service members have children, and support for these children “is critical to the health and the future of our nation, and our force,” Hagel said. “Children grow up shaped by their experiences and their memories, as we know, meaning support we give to military-connected children today will define our nation tomorrow.”
The education of military children is a “strategic investment” in the future, Hagel said. “I want to assure you that DoD will continue these investments even as we transition away from more than a decade of war and confront the reality of reduced resources.”
In deciding how to implement furloughs for staff in DoD dependents’ schools, he said, “We weighed the mandated need for department-wide cuts against educational requirements we felt could not be compromised, such as school accreditation, a full curriculum, and special testing like graduation and AP exams.”
Furloughs of 11 days for most civilian employees, including many Department of Defense Education Activity employees, began July 8, scheduled for one day a week. DoD teachers’ furlough days were reduced to five days beginning with the start of school this fall.
“Principals have flexibility on how they implement furloughs of DoDEA educators to minimize disruptions,” he said.
“We will have to make more tough choices in the future,” he said, noting that while efforts are under way to end the mandatory budget reductions known as sequestration, there is no guarantee those efforts will be successful, he said.
“We teach our kids to plan ahead, to be prepared. We tell them proper planning prevents poor performance,” he said. “We must live that lesson as well.”
Although sequester is damaging, it’s the law of the land, he said. “We teach our children to face their problems head on, and now we must do the same. We cannot run away from sequester. We must deal with it. Anything less would be irresponsible.”