The Interstate Compact

teacher and classroom

We hear often from military families about the challenges their children face when moving. Children may struggle with saying goodbye to old friends, adjusting to new routines, and fitting in as the “new kid” in school. It can be especially difficult for families when a move leads to academic problems. Different school districts and states may have varying curricula, standards and requirements, which can present roadblocks to transitioning military kids and their families.

The Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children was designed to eliminate some of those roadblocks. It is an agreement among states to provide uniform treatment for military children moving to new school districts.

The intent is to ensure that children are enrolled immediately in their new school, placed in the appropriate academic program, and able to graduate on time.

Some of the specific provisions of the Compact include:

  • Enrollment: Schools should accept unofficial or hand-carried records when enrolling new students, rather than waiting to receive an official transcript from the previous school.
  • Placement: If a child was receiving special education services at the old school, the new school should place the child in a comparable program. The new school may conduct its own evaluation later to ensure that the student is appropriately placed.
  • Attendance: Districts should allow children to miss school to attend deployment-related activities.
  • Eligibility: Students should be able to continue at the grade level in which they were enrolled in their previous school, regardless of age.
  • Graduation: Schools should waive specific course or exam requirements for students transferring during their senior year if necessary to allow the student to graduate on time.

The Interstate Compact covers children of active duty military and activated Guard and Reserve enrolled in public schools in grades K through 12. Children of fallen service members, as well as those who are medically retired or discharged, are covered by the Compact for one year following the service member’s death, retirement, or discharge.

Although the Compact has been passed by the legislatures in all 50 states and D.C., it is still common for military parents to find that teachers and school administrators are unfamiliar with the law and its requirements. In addition, although the Compact has helped to reduce obstacles faced by military children and families in public school, transition-related conflicts sometimes still occur.

Group of Kids smiling

What can parents do to become more effective advocates for their children?

  • Become educated – and educate others: The Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission (MIC3) has created a variety of downloadable brochures, webinars and other resources to help parents and educators learn more about the Compact
  • Reach out to your School Liaison Officer: Installation School Liaison Officers (SLOs) can work with local school administrators to ensure they are familiar with the Compact, as well as to help teachers and school personnel understand the challenges faced by military children and their families.
  • Contact your Interstate Compact officials: Each state that adopts the Compact is required to appoint a representative to the Compact Commission, which is responsible for enacting rules to implement the Compact. Find information on your state Compact commissioner here. Families concerned about whether the Compact is being followed in their school district may also contact Compact Commission officials directly.

One of the biggest financial challenges faced by any family with children is paying for college. Tuition at both public universities and private colleges seems to go up every year, leaving many parents wondering how they will afford higher education for their children. Fortunately for military families, legislation passed in recent years has helped put college within their reach.

In-State Tuition

Young lady at school

Public colleges and universities typically offer two tuition rates: one for state residents and another – much higher – for students from outside the state. In the past, this system put military families at a disadvantage. States set their own guidelines for in-state tuition eligibility, but most require that students or their families live, own property and/or pay taxes in that state. Military families, who move frequently and often are legal residents of a state other than the one in which they are stationed, could have a difficult time meeting that standard.

Luckily, the playing field was leveled for military families in 2009. That year, the Higher Education Opportunity Act was passed, requiring public colleges and universities to grant in-state tuition status to dependent children of service members in the state where they reside or are permanently stationed. Once a dependent child is enrolled and paying in-state tuition, they will continue to pay the in-state tuition rate as long as they remain continuously enrolled at the institution, even if the service member is reassigned outside the state.

This law has been a tremendous help to military families, who otherwise might struggle to afford college for their children. However, it’s important to know that the law only applies to children of service members on active duty for a period of more than 30 days. It does not apply to the children of retirees or veterans.

Post-9/11 GI Bill

Graduation Kiss

One of the most valuable education benefits available for military families is the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The GI Bill provides up to 36 months of education benefits to eligible beneficiaries. In addition to tuition, beneficiaries may receive a stipend to help pay for books as well as a housing allowance.

Since 2009, service members have had the option of transferring some or all of their GI Bill benefit to their dependent spouses and children. Service members can choose to transfer the entire 36 month benefit to one family member or divide it among their spouse and/or children.

The regulations covering transferability of Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits are complex. Families should review the rules carefully to ensure that they meet all of the requirements for transferring and using the benefit. If your service member chooses to transfer his or her GI Bill benefit, it’s important to understand the following:

  • Service members must have served at least six years in the armed forces (active duty or Selected Reserve) and agree to serve an additional four years from the date of transfer.
  • Although the service member can apply to transfer the benefit after serving six years, children cannot use the benefit until the service member has served for ten years.
  • Service members can only apply to transfer benefits while they are still serving, not after retirement or separation.
  • Children may not use the benefit until they earn a secondary school diploma (or equivalency certificate), or reach age 18. They cannot use the benefit after reaching age 26.

Service members can apply to transfer their post-9/11 GI Bill benefits online through the MilConnect portal. Step-by-step instructions are available on the MilConnect website. If your student attends a public college or university, the Post-9/11 GI Bill will pay all tuition and fees at the in-state tuition level. For private or foreign colleges and universities, the amount of the benefit is capped at the national maximum rate, which changes annually. Be aware that tuition at private colleges and universities is typically much higher than the national maximum cap. Some schools participate in the Yellow Ribbon program, which helps make up the difference between their tuition and what the Post-9/11 GI Bill covers. 

Since 2014, public colleges and universities have been required to grant in-state tuition status to veterans and their dependents using Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits within three years of the service member leaving the military. Effective July 1, 2017, this benefit will be extended to dependents of active duty service members as well. Note that this only applies to students using GI Bill benefits. 

Specific questions about paying for your child’s education should be directed to the financial aid office at your child’s college or university. Those offices are familiar with programs and policies supporting military families and are often willing to work with families to make college affordable for military kids.

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