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School Options Available to Military Children7 minute read • Nov. 6, 2023
The military lifestyle creates a variety of academic opportunities for school-age, youth and teen family members. The Defense Department has engaged on many levels in pursuit of the overarching goal to ensure families are informed as you seek the best educational opportunities for your children throughout your military service.
The available educational options are as diverse as the locations where you may be assigned. There are multiple factors to consider and choices to be made for each relocation, and your children will have unique educational needs. Before you move, understand the education opportunities available for your student.
Department of Defense Education Activity schools
The Department of Defense Education Activity, or DODEA, operates 160 schools serving K-12 students. DODEA’s eight districts are located in 11 foreign countries, seven states, Guam and Puerto Rico. DODEA also offers a Virtual High School option for students.
DODEA schools eligibility and online registration for students
Visit the DODEA website for information about eligibility criteria for DODEA school, and find additional information, register new students or re-register existing students.
In the United States, each state establishes its own laws for compulsory starting age and legal age of withdrawal for public education. According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, the majority of school-age children from military families assigned to locations throughout the United States attend public schools.
Because state requirements vary, we recommend that you seek guidance from your state’s Department of Education for unique state requirements. For information about the public schools that serve your duty station/assignment, reach out to your local school liaison. School liaisons are located at each installation and are your main point of contact for school-related matters for pre-K through 12th grade.
Currently, 161 public schools operate on military installations across the United States. Many of these traditional public school programs offer specialized school options, such as a charter or magnet school.
The Defense-State Liaison Office has led several efforts that support military families as they transition to, from and within the United States, including:
- The Military Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunities for Military Children: The Interstate Compact includes many provisions that ease educational transition challenges for military children. Currently, all 50 states, the District of Columbia and DODEA participate in the Interstate Compact to help your students enroll in school, register for the classes they need and graduate on time.
While the compact is not exhaustive in its coverage, it does address the key issues encountered by military families — eligibility, enrollment, placement and graduation. The compact applies to interstate moves as well as overseas moves from a DODEA school to a U.S. public school and moves from a U.S. public school to a DODEA school. The compact does not apply to private or international schools.
Learn how the Interstate Compact makes changing schools easier for military children and find out how the compact applies to your student’s transition. Contact your local school liaison with any transition-related questions.
- Advance Enrollment: Many states waive proof of residency requirements for enrollment in public schools until the student arrives in the new state on military transfer orders. This allows students to enroll in school and receive class schedules in advance of arriving at the new school. Having class schedules prior to the move provides students a sense of comfort, relieving unneeded stress during transition between locations. Learn more about the Advance Enrollment initiative.
- Open enrollment flexibility: Open enrollment is a form of public school choice that allows students to attend a different school than the one to which they are assigned based on their place of residence. Currently, 46 states have varied open enrollment policies. The majority of states offer military families increased flexibility through access to district open enrollment opportunities. To find out more about enrollment flexibility, advance enrollment, and the Military Interstate Compact, contact your school liaison.
Alternatives to public education
Depending on your family’s needs, alternatives to traditional public schools may be right for you:
- Charter schools: These schools are granted approval from state public education departments and local school districts to operate independently. Charter schools must meet the same standards of accountability required of traditional public schools, but how they do that is up to them. They have the independence to design curricula and deliver education in order to serve the enrolled students based on the philosophy of the school or the needs of their students and families.
- Virtual schools: These schools operate through the same authority as state public education departments for public schools when operated by the state or the local school system. In this case, they’re public and tuition-free schools for locally enrolled students, and they adhere to state standards while offering courses through remote instruction. It’s important to know that virtual learning requires at-home involvement of parents, especially for younger children.
There are many private, tuition-based virtual schools available around the world. If you seek to use one of these programs, it is important to ensure that the school is accredited for the transfer of all secondary grade credits (grades 6-12). Many local public schools, including DODEA, are unable to accept transfer credits from unaccredited private schools. For student athletes, secondary course credit must be from accredited schools to qualify for NCAA scholarships.
- Religious private schools: Faith-based organizations, whether churches, synagogues, mosques or other communities formed around shared religious beliefs, have long offered their own schools. While the traditional core subjects are taught, faith is infused into the programming.
- Boarding and independent schools: Not every private school is affiliated with a particular faith. Families might choose these private, independent schools because they offer such distinctions as a specific philosophy of learning or approach, an international baccalaureate degree or innovative practice free from traditional classroom restraints.
Independent schools are run by boards of governors or trustees who determine the curriculum and educational philosophy. Some schools are day schools, where students come for the day just like their public school peers. Other families choose boarding schools to immerse their children in the school culture throughout the school year.
- Home schooling: Home schooling is an educational approach that offers families a personal approach to their students’ learning. This approach can take on a variety of different faces depending upon the family and the needs of each child.
Should you choose this option, check with your local school district and state for requirements. You can also contact your local school liaison for help with state-specific information on how to withdraw from public school and find out homeschooling requirements, including testing and mandatory subjects. If you choose this option while living overseas, check with your installation school liaison to learn about home school guidance by country, as host nation requirements apply for military-connected homeschoolers.
Education support in overseas locations not served by DODEA schools
DODEA provides educational support and financial assistance through the Non-DOD Schools Program to eligible families assigned to international locations where no DODEA schools are available. Visit the DODEA website for additional information about NDSP. Need overseas schooling assistance? Contact your local school liaison for help with this transition.
Making the choice for your children
While this article outlines many education options to consider when making a school transition decision for your student, you may still have questions about your options. Your school liaison is trained to help you and your child make a smooth transition. Your current school liaison can connect you with the school liaison at your new location.
Podcast: School Liaisons and Geo-Dispersed Families
School liaisons provide a wide variety of services which includes assisting with Interstate Compact compliance, school selection, transfer of credits, educational concerns and challenges, and advance enrollment. They can also connect you to the Exceptional Family Member Program to help you navigate the special education program at the school your child will attend.
If you still need help figuring out school options for your children, Military OneSource education consultants are available 24/7/365 to help.