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From Draft NOtices, May - June 2000

WAR AND EDUCATION: A GOOD MIX?


- Ken Larsen, Friends Committee on Legislation of Calif.

Most Californians probably donít know that our state has an agency called the "Military Department" and that it is slated for a 58% budget increase in these times of peace and prosperity. Traditionally, the Military Departmentís job has been to manage the California Army and Air National Guard, the stateís reserve forces for times of war, insurrection and disaster.

But Governor Gray Davis has come up with a new mission for the stateís military. He wants the National Guard not only to prepare for catastrophe, but also to take over the education of difficult young people.

The governorís 2000-2001 fiscal year budget asks the legislature to approve $10.5 million in funding for two new paramilitary training institutions. Both the Turning Point Academy and the Oakland Military Academy set dangerous and wasteful policy precedents.

Big boot camp budget

The Turning Point Academy, a 12-month residential military boot camp for "zero tolerance" juvenile offenders ages 15-17, would be established at the Guardís Camp San Luis Obispo. At an initial annual cost to the stateís general fund of $9.2 million, the program would hire 84 personnel to support 160 "cadets."

In other words the National Guard, which lacks a proven track record in working with serious juvenile offenders, would be handed resources that most California educators couldnít imagine in their wildest dreams: one staff member for every two students and a budget of $57,500 for each pupil under their charge. Thatís an extravagant amount to pay for an untested program, especially when the state is otherwise starving its schools with per-pupil spending thatís among the lowest in the nation.

In addition to a lavish budget, the governor also is pushing military boot camps as part of legislation to take discretion away from judges. Under SB 1937 (Adam Schiff, D-Los Angeles), a trailer bill sponsored by the administration, judges would be limited to two choices when sentencing "zero tolerance" offenders: the California Youth Authority or the Guardís military boot camp. Options that would place troubled young people in less brutal environments, where they might be indoctrinated into the ways of peace rather than the culture of prison and war, will be ruled out if SB 1937 passes.

Brown boondoggle?

The other major new military education initiative originates with two unlikely sponsors: the office of Jerry Brown, Mayor of Oakland, and the Oakland Unified School District, whose board is made up of members much more liberal than their counterparts in most of the state. Striving to serve "low-achievers from a disadvantaged background" in grades 7-12, the Oakland Military Academy would spend $1.3 million in its first year (2000-2001) to hire 17 personnel to serve 162 students in a nonresidential military charter school. Its five-year plan anticipates a huge increase in enrollments, with an anticipated 972 "cadets" in the 2006-07 school year.

Uniforms, math and mentoring

Three other programs that mix the military with education are already on the books but are seeking unprecedented amounts of state funding. The oldest of these is the California Cadet Corps, a school-based elective program, that is slated for $1.5 million in state dollars "to provide uniforms and an enriched curriculum for the 6500 cadets at 61 participating schools," according to a state senate budget committee report. For almost ten years, the Corps has been funded by local school districts.

Another is the California Starbase Program, a fifth-grade math and science program, that is currently supported with $237,000 in federal funds. The governorís proposal for $92,000 to fund one Starbase position represents the first time state funds will be used for this program. [Editorís note: Starbase is a national youth outreach program of the military.]

Lastly, the Davis budget allocates $550,000 and eight positions for the "Youth ChalleNGe Program (Grizzly Youth Academy)." This federally-initiated residential and mentoring program for high school drop outs requires a 25% state match in the first year followed by a five percent increase for three succeeding years, until state support reaches a minimum of $1.12 million.

Legislative staff skeptical

The legislatureís nonpartisan analyst, Elizabeth Hill, and the staff of the State Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee have already generated serious doubts about further intrusion of the military into Californiaís education system. In a review of what it describes as "a substantial expansion in General Fund commitment to National Guard youth programs," the committee staff raises several policy questions:

  • To what extent does this educational engagement lessen attention and focus on the primary military responsibilities of the National Guard?

  • Can requiring reimbursements from the school districts whose students participate in these programs reduce the need for state support?

  • Do these military programs provide quality education components in addition to the emphasis on discipline?

  • If these are good educational models, can their attributes be transferred to regular classrooms in the public school system?

    It is difficult to answer all of these questions because the state does not require an evaluation of these programs.

The Legislative Analyst goes even further, pointing out that juvenile boot camps have been found to be ineffective and that the Military Departmentís proposals "lack key design components important to any juvenile offender rehabilitation program." Furthermore, the LAO points out that thereís no reason why these initiatives canít use existing funding sources, such as Proposition 98 dollars, instead of dipping into the stateís General Fund, which is needed to pay for food, health care, shelter, and, in some cases, subsistence for disabled and economically marginal and impoverished Californians left out of the stateís prosperity.

What you can do

Because it seldom makes the evening news, most Californians have no idea that the reach of the military extends right down from the federal government through the state and into our local schools and universities. Last year, the military and their legislative allies tried to take high school diplomas and college jobs away from young men who fail to register with the Selective Service System. Fortunately, FCL and anti-draft groups were able to nip these proposals in the bud.

This year, the battleground has expanded to the governorís budget. It will take persistent long-term pressure to bring an end to the militaryís efforts to use our schools as a base for the imposition of military values on our students.

Write to the governor and your state legislators to let them know how you feel about the plans outlined in this article. Remind them of the compelling arguments set forth by their own legislative advisors.

Ask them to redirect their efforts from militarization schemes that wonít work to the more soundly-based programs described in the "Inventory of California Violence Prevention Programs" published by the FCL Education Fund. Contact the FCL office to request a copy of the inventory ($5 donation requested).

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (www.comdsd.org). It originally appeared in the FCL Newsletter, April 2000, and was reprinted with the permission of the Friends Committee on Legislation: 926 J Street, Room 707, Sacramento, CA 95814, fclinfo@cwo.com.

       

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