New Law Helps Military Recruiters at High Schools
by Ron Hutcheson

November 29, 2002

WASHINGTON - Military recruiters looking for a few good high school students will have an easier time finding them thanks to a new federal law that requires schools to turn over students' names, addresses and phone numbers.

Congress ordered the school-to-military cooperation as part of the No Child Left Behind Act, the education overhaul that President Bush championed last year. The law, which went into effect in July, also forces high school administrators to let military recruiters onto their campuses.

The terms apply to any school, public or private, that gets federal money under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Exempted are private schools with religious objections to military service, such as those run by Quakers.

The requirements are welcome at the Pentagon, but some school administrators feel otherwise. Schools that refuse to obey risk losing federal education money.

Parents can instruct school officials to withhold their children's names, home addresses and phone numbers.

Critics say the law is an invasion of students' privacy and an affront to the principle of local control over schools. They question the need for the changes, since all of the armed services met their recruitment goals last year.

Some educators are becoming aware of the new requirements only now because the recruiting provisions were overlooked in the midst of Bush's far-reaching education overhaul. The main thrust of the law is to require standardized tests for all students and to set tough accountability standards for schools.

School administrators were put on notice about the recruiting terms in October in a joint letter from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Education Secretary Rod Paige that urged schools to "work closely with military recruiters."

They reminded educators that the disclosure requirement applies to juniors as well as graduating seniors.

Before the law went into effect, as many as 2,000 high schools out of about 21,700 high schools nationwide barred military recruiters, according to the Defense Department.

Most schools are extremely reluctant to share personal information about their students, especially since other federal laws severely limit such releases.

"We've been very zealous about student privacy, and with good reason. The parents want that," said Bruce Hunter, director of public policy at the American Association of School Administrators.

In Portland, Ore., the school board banned military recruiters from high school campuses in 1995 because of complaints about recruiters' tactics and to protest the Pentagon's refusal to accept openly gay service members.

"In the past, the military recruiters have been quite aggressive, like calling people at home every day. It happened enough that our parents got upset," said Brenda Gustafson, a school board spokeswoman. "Confidentiality is a major concern with us."

Confronted with the new law, the board lifted its ban.

School officials said they were not aware of any recent complaints about aggressive recruiting tactics.

The Defense Department is eager to take advantage of the new law.

Some school districts were asked for their directory lists the day after the changes went into effect. In San Francisco, military recruiters were allowed on campuses for the first time in more than a decade.

The Defense Department predicts that easier access to high school students will significantly reduce recruitment costs, which have nearly doubled over the past decade, to $11,600 from $6,500 per new enlistee.

Many schools already were cooperating with military recruiters.

"We've been handing over that information anyway, for at least eight years - probably longer than that," said Paul Jackson, a spokesman for the Philadelphia school system.

Although male students are required to register with the Selective Service at age 18, Defense Department officials say they have no plans to reinstate a military draft.

The armed services need about 210,000 recruits a year to maintain the all-volunteer military, in addition to 150,000 recruits annually for National Guard and Reserve units.

Finding recruits has become more difficult in recent years.

The boom economy of the 1990s, an increase in college enrollments and even the shrinking military all made it harder to find volunteers.

"Many of those best able to advise youth about post-high school options - teachers, counselors, coaches, parents - have little firsthand experience with today's military," says a Defense Department explanation of the new law. "Those adult influences may underestimate the military's value as a powerful foundation for success in any endeavor."

Copyright 2002 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.