Capitol Comments: Purple Star schools make the grade for military families

Published 8:45 pm Friday, March 15, 2024

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Capitol Comments by Peggy Bennett

Recently, I read in the paper that five area veterans received a Quilt of Valor in a ceremony at the Albert Lea American Legion. I love that these quilts are presented to service members or veterans who have been touched by war. They provide a heartwarming and needed thank you to these men and women who have served and sacrificed for our nation.

Peggy Bennett

This is another reminder that freedom isn’t free. Without the sacrifices made by brave men and women like these, we would not be living freely in the greatest country in the world.

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Behind each of these soldiers stands a family that also makes sacrifices: the spouse who works selflessly to raise a family months at a time on their own; the children who must adapt to long stretches of time without a parent in the picture. And even if their family member isn’t deployed overseas, these families often sacrifice through multiple moves to different military bases stateside, leaving friends, schools and other family behind.

In order to help support these military families, I have chief-authored a bill that would create a voluntary Purple Star Schools program for Minnesota schools. This bill was recently approved in the Minnesota House Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee and will now move on to be heard in an education committee.

Established in 2017 and brought forward by the Department of Defense, Purple Star Schools are military-friendly schools that have demonstrated a strong commitment to students and families connected to our nation’s military. About 40 states in our nation have already adopted the Purple Star Schools program.

According to the Department of Defense, the average military-connected child will attend six to nine schools during their K-12 education experience. These moves, often in the middle of a school year, create gaps and overlaps in curriculum, different graduation requirements and course-placement disruption for students. Deployment, and the parental absence that this brings, also presents challenges for families. Whether deployment or military transfer, military families face unique academic, social and emotional challenges that are especially impactful to a child’s education.

Under my proposed legislation, if a Minnesota school seeks to be awarded and designated a Purple Star School, certain military family-supportive criteria must be met. These include requirements such as designating a staff member to serve as a military liaison who helps identify and serve as the point of contact for military-connected students at the school and helps appropriate for them school services and coordinating school programs; maintaining easily accessible information on the school website concerning relocation, academic, counseling and support information for the students and their families; offering professional development opportunities for staff members on issues related to military-connected students; and other support strategies.

During the committee hearing for the bill, I was grateful to have wonderful testimony from Winnifred and Genevieve Laporte, fifth- and sixth-grade daughters of Jessica and Sgt. 1st Class Thaddeus Laporte from Randolph. Their father has served in the Army for years. The family has had to move to a new state three times since the girls started school. These young ladies did a great job expressing how difficult and stressful these moves can be and how a program like the Purple Star Schools could help them.

It has been a pleasure to serve on the Veterans and Military Committee and be a part of many pieces of legislation to aid our military service members, veterans, the Minnesota National Guard and Minnesota’s service branches. It is an honor to come alongside military service men and women and their families with this Purple Star Schools bill to help make it easier for their children to navigate and be successful in their school careers. I am hopeful Minnesota will soon join the ranks of those who can provide Purple Star Schools for our military families!

Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, is the District 23A representative.