Air Force families — and other military families stationed at Air Force joint bases — have new information on key quality of life issues at installations, with a base-by-base rating for public education services and military spouse licensure portability.

This is the second year the Air Force has conducted this comprehensive assessment of these issues in the communities around all 157 Air Force bases. The first, released in 2020, was based on 2019 data. This assessment is based on public data available as of May 2021.

The assessment used public data for school districts to rate academic performance, school climate and service offerings. An Air Force team evaluated pre-kindergarten through 12th grade public school districts within the military housing area of Air Force installations, defined as the geographic areas in which service members are assumed to look for community housing.

Service offerings comprise pre-kindergarten classes; student-to-counselor ratios; student-to mental health support ratios; student-to-nurse ratios; and student-to-teacher ratios. These offerings ease transitions and provide emotional academic support to students. The overall rating is based 60 percent on academic performance, 20 percent on school climate and 20 percent on service offerings.

The report compares public education opportunities at all 157 Air Force installations, and ranks them based on those findings. It doesn’t provide number rankings, but divided them into thirds to provide information about a particular base’s position compared to all the other bases. It color-codes the overall findings, and each component of the findings. A “red” code means the base is in the lower third, described as being least supportive of military families; “yellow” means moderately supportive, and “green” means it’s among the most supportive bases.

Bases moving up or down

Seventeen Air Force bases saw their rankings improve this year for public education support, and 18 fell. Many of those that improved are Air National Guard bases, but among the active-duty bases that made gains are Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma, and Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, which moved from the middle of the three tiers to the highest tier. Vance AFB, Oklahoma; Holloman AFB, New Mexico; and Scott AFB, Illinois, moved from the lowest to the middle tier.

Among the active-duty bases that are at the high end of the “most supportive” tier for education are Luke AFB, Arizona; Beale AFB, Los Angeles AFB and Vandenberg AFB, California; Hanscom AFB, Massachusetts; Whiteman AFB, Montana; Minot AFB, North Dakota; Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey; Arnold AFB, Tennessee; Sheppard AFB, Texas; and Hill AFB, Utah.

Among the active-duty bases that sank in the assessment were Goodfellow AFB, Texas, which went from being in the top tier of public education support to the bottom tier. Others moved from the middle tier, previously being moderately supportive, to the bottom, having the least supportive education services. They include: Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia; Fairchild AFB and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.; Francis E. Warren AFB, Wyoming; and Shaw AFB, South Carolina.

At the lowest end, the “least supportive” active-duty bases, are the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado; Maxwell AFB, Alabama; Little Rock AFB, Arkansas; Schriever Space Force Base, Colorado; MacDill AFB and Tyndall AFB, Florida; Robins AFB, Georgia; McConnell AFB, Kansas; Barksdale AFB, Louisiana; Columbus AFB, Mississippi; Malmstrom AFB, Montana; Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina; and Laughlin AFB, Texas.

Many bases are squarely in the middle of the upper and middle tiers.

Transferring occupational licenses

Officials also looked at the ease of transferring occupational licenses, an important issue for spouses.

The assessment provides the same color coding for rating licensure portability, but doesn’t rank the bases against each other regarding that issue. Policies regarding licensure portability depend on a state’s laws and regulations.

In this year’s ratings, two states — Idaho and South Dakota — moved from yellow to green status, with strides made in portability efforts for virtually all the professions. But South Carolina was downgraded from green to yellow, because of legislation passed that increased licensing requirements.

The professions evaluated are accounting, cosmetology, emergency medical services, engineering, law, nursing, physical therapy, psychology, teaching and “other professions.” Some states had changes in portability for certain professions. For example, although California has a “red,” or least supportive, rating, there was a change to bring license portability for accounting in that state from “red” to “green.”

Air Force takes the lead

Education and license portability are issues that have long been identified as keys to quality of life, retention and family readiness for all military families.

The Air Force is the only branch of service that has taken on these comprehensive assessments of public education around its bases and made them publicly available. The assessment provides military families a glimpse into the status of public education opportunities at each individual base, with maps of local school districts that serve the base.

By analyzing state-level information, the assessment also rates the ease of transferring a spouses’ occupational licenses to the state where that base is located. The process is often costly and time consuming, delaying a spouse’s ability to continue a career at the new locations.

The assessment also serves other purposes.

The results of these assessments are one of several factors that are considered in Air Force strategic basing decisions. In that process, Air Force officials will gather additional data to update the school and licensure information at the local level.

The publicly available results also provide information as to what local and state officials can do to reduce challenges for military families. According to the Air Force announcement of the 2021 assessment results, there have been growing discussions between local school districts, local government officials and the Air Force that have focused on how communities can understand the needs of military-connected children, and provide the best possible support opportunities.

“Many of these discussions turned into action, resulting in installations seeing improvement in overall education scores,” officials stated.

On the issue of ease of transferring occupational licenses, the Air Force officials found that more than 60 pieces of state legislation related to military spouse licensure have helped remove some barriers, accelerated process timelines and reduced costs. A number of efforts are ongoing, spurred by more than a decade of work by the DoD State Liaison Office.

Pandemic’s effects

Many schools around the country have been severely affected by the pandemic over the past year. In their overview, officials stated that to date, COVID hasn’t had an impact on any of the data they use in their analysis, but that they will continue to evaluate any impacts COVID may have on the criteria they use. Based on the different survey periods for the education data sources (2017-2018; 2018-2019, and 2019-2021) many of the time periods are just before or right as the pandemic began. The Air Force uses the latest data published by the Department of Education and Stanford Education Data Archive.

To develop the assessment, Air Force officials worked with national-level policy professionals and subject matter experts to develop the criteria and framework to assess the support of military families each year.

Here’s more information on the assessment and the methodology.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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