Surprise Attempt to Force Military Training into High Schools Fails — for Now


Rick Jahnkow -

On September 17, 2008, the U.S. Senate was presented with an amendment to the 2009 military authorization bill that would have forced high schools to accept military training. The amendment would have accomplished this by denying all federal funds to any school district that did not allow the various military branches to establish, maintain or operate a unit of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC). Each military branch has its own JROTC program.

The amendment was introduced by Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, and was buried among over 250 other amendments proposed for the 2009 military authorization bill. The method of attaching such amendments to major pieces of legislation is the way Congress passed laws in the 1990s that require colleges and universities to grant access to military recruiters and permit the establishment of college ROTC units. Those laws, which were later upheld by the Supreme Court, paved the way for an amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 that is now forcing school districts to give recruiters access to secondary school students.

In order to be considered by the full Senate, amendments to the 2009 authorization bill had to be submitted to the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Carl Levin. Levin, in consultation with the committee vice-chair, could then decide which amendments would be up for consideration. It was believed that if Cornyn’s proposal had made it to the floor of the Senate, it would have been approved easily. To prevent that from happening, groups that did not want the amendment, including COMD, organized a campaign of phone calls and faxes urging Levin to delete the amendment. We don’t know how important that campaign was, but the amendment was not included when the appropriations bill was passed by the Senate.

For now, we seem to have escaped this major escalation in the militarization of high schools, but it’s a trend that can’t be ignored. Cornyn seems to be motivated by a well-publicized decision of the San Francisco Unified School District to phase out JROTC, the only school district in the country to take such a stand. In 2001, a similar reaction to a ban on recruiting by schools in Portland, Oregon, motivated some members of Congress to introduce the provision in No Child Left Behind that now punishes high schools if they don’t grant recruiters access to students.

The extreme conservative wing in Congress, which frequently claims to be defending the principle of local governmental control, becomes hypocritical and can’t tolerate such independence when it conflicts with their right-wing ideology. Cornyn, and others like him, may try to introduce this amendment again, and if we are not more organized and aggressive in opposing it, we could eventually lose this struggle and see the civilian school system become even more militarized.

It’s critical that we reverse this trend now!

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (