What Matters to Military Families: Highlights from the 2019 Congressional Military Family Caucus Summit

The Congressional Military Family Caucus recently hosted its annual summit at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center in Columbus, Georgia, just outside of Fort Benning.

The Caucus, now in its 10th year, takes this opportunity to bring together a diverse group of individuals and organizations dedicated to improving the experience of military families. This year’s theme, “Homefront Readiness,” encapsulated the belief that to attract the best and the brightest to our nation’s military, we must do more to provide for their families.

Hosted by Reps. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the summit featured an opening reception presented by the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce and a video message from Karen Pence, the wife of Vice President Mike Pence. Panels focused on the topics of education for military-connected children, spousal employment, and housing. It also was an opportunity for service organizations to connect directly with military families.

The summit demonstrated the importance of continued conversations around the challenges that military families face. That was evident by the impassioned questions and concerns expressed by the military families in attendance.

This year, the Collaborative for Student Success had the opportunity to participate in the Summit by featuring our very own Erika Ross on an education geared panel hosted by Military Families for High Standards. The panel provided military families, district personnel and other stakeholders with a space to discuss ways to improve the quality of education afforded to military-connected students.

One robust discussion during the panel centered on the Military Student Identifier, which was created as a provision in the Every Student Succeeds Act. The law requires schools and districts to track the number of military-connected students they serve as well as their academic progress. The panelists also encouraged audience members and families to connect with existing resources and best practices that can help smooth transitions as they move from one school district to another.

Although we were there to present, the information we learned from hearing from the audience proved much more valuable.

We left the summit with the key takeaway that education offerings directly shape our national security and Homefront readiness.

Multiple military spouses and service members said during the event that poor school systems and educational outcomes can determine whether a family relocates — or even if a service member makes the decision to reenlist.

For families who have faced obstacles finding quality education opportunities for their children near military installations, the frustration and disappointment can at times keep them from re-enlisting. To better serve these families and address the obstacles that stand in their way, their experiences must continue being elevated and presented to decision-makers at the district level – where schooling decisions are most often made – and at the state and federal level, where laws that govern what opportunities are available get their start.

We left the this year’s summit with a renewed sense of urgency in our work with Military Families for High Standards. We are committed to elevating the experiences and stories of military families to all levels of decision makers, as well as identifying resources to help them overcome challenges.