Since the days of Army frontier posts, U.S. military installations have established their own schools when no public education was available in the local area. Funding for these schools was often irregular and unsystematic. The first of these schools was West Point Elementary School, established prior to 1816 and authorized by Congress in 1921 to serve the children of personnel residing on the West Point Military Reservation who serve the United States Military Academy. In 1950, Federal legislation alleviated this problem by consolidating the funding and operation of these installation-run schools under the authority of Section 6 of Public Law No. 81-874. This legislation enabled the Secretary of Education (then the Commissioner of Education) to operate and maintain what became known as Section 6 schools for children residing on Federal property if:
- state laws prohibited tax revenues of the state or any political subdivision of the state to be expended for the free public education of children residing on Federal property.
- education systems within the local communities were judged unable to provide a suitable free public education for the children residing on Federal property before a Section 6 school could be transferred to an Local Education Authority (LEA).
In1981, the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (Public Law No. 97-35) transferred responsibility for the Section 6 schools to the Secretary of Defense. For the first year after this transfer, the military services funded the operation of the schools because budget authority had not been provided. While budget authority of operation and maintenance of the Section 6 schools was granted to DoD in 1982, responsibility of the DoD school system was not centralized in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Personnel Support, Families and Education until 1990. In 1994, Public Law No. 103-337 replaced Section 6 legislation which was repealed that year, and renamed the school system the Department of Defense Domestic Dependent Elementary and Secondary Schools (DDESS).
The Section 6/DDESS system has expanded and contracted over the years. After their initial consolidation in 1950, schools were added to the system as a result of the racial integration of the military. Establishing these Section 6 schools allowed military children to attend integrated schools where local schools remained segregated. Since that time, the trend has been for Section 6 schools to transfer to LEAs largely as a result of:
- pressure from the U.S. Department of Education on states and localities to acknowledge responsibility for the education of military dependents
- population growth near installations
- the integration of the public schools.
Thus, while at one point there were about 100 installations with Section 6 schools, by the early 1970s, most of these schools had been transferred to LEAs. The last transfer of a Section 6 school occurred in 1973. Three other Section 6/DDESS school systems have closed since then as a result of installation closures. Those DDESS schools that remain tend to be in locations where a transfer is difficult to accomplish.
One prior transfer effort is of particular note. In the early 1950s, the DDESS schools on the Marine Corps base at Quantico, Virginia, were scheduled to be transferred to an LEA. Strong opposition to that transfer by Quantico personnel led to the passage, in 1955, of what is commonly known as the "Quantico Amendment." This amendment to the original Section 6 legislation required that the transfer of a Section 6 school to an LEA must be approved by the Secretary of Education and the Secretary of the relevant military service. Under this amendment, a transfer of the Quantico schools was blocked. The language of this amendment was carried over into the original legislation of the DDESS schools, but was dropped in 1990 when operation of the schools was centralized within DoD. Under today’s legislation, transfer of a DDESS school must be approved by the Secretary of Defense since these schools are now under DoD and not the Department of Education. The Secretary of Defense thus replaces both the Secretary of Education and the Secretary of the relevant military service.
-----Excerpt from DMDC Report No 97-013, October 1997 – A Study of Schools Serving Military Families in the U.S.