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UMW Action Alert -'No Child Unrecruited':Military Recruiters and the No Child Left Behind Act

by Washington DC Office of Public Policy

Contact: Office of Public Policy GBGM-Women's Division 100 Maryland Avenue, NE Room 530 Washington, DC 20002 (202)488-5660 Fax:(202) 488-5681
Office of Public Policy
GBGM-Women's Division
100 Maryland Avenue, NE Room 530
Washington, DC 20002
Fax:(202) 488-5681

In January 2002, President George W

December 2003

In January 2002, President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) into law.  No Child Left Behind reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) - the principal federal law affecting education from kindergarten through high school. Buried within the 650 pages of the No Child Left Behind Act is Section 9528, which requires secondary schools to release student directory information for juniors and seniors to military recruiters upon request.  Directory information consists of a student’s name, home address, and phone number.  Under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, high schools were only required to give military recruiters the same access to campuses that was given to professional and educational recruiters.  The recent change in the law mandates that high schools give military recruiters access to campuses even if those campuses do not open their doors to professional and educational recruiters.

This provision applies to any local education agency (LEA – i.e. the local school district) – public or private - receiving federal funds under the No Child Left Behind Act.  Schools refusing to provide students’ contact information to military recruiters do so at the risk of losing federal funding.  However, private secondary schools that maintain a religious objection to service in the Armed Forces, such as the Quakers for example, are exempted from this part of the legislation.

The law does contain an option for an individual student or parent of a student to request that the student’s directory information not be released without the parent’s prior written consent.  Without this express “opting-out,” the information will be released by the local education agency.  Local school districts are responsible for informing parents about the “opt-out” provision, although in practice many don’t.

According to David Goodman, Section 9528 undercuts the authority of local school districts, including those in San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, which have in the past barred recruiters from schools on the grounds that the military discriminates against gays and lesbians.[i]  After NCLB was passed in 2002, the San Francisco School District was forced to abandon its policy of non-recruitment, and it gave military recruiters access to its campuses for the first time in over a decade.[ii]  Since then, the San Francisco School District, has been an active advocate for its students, sending home individual letters to parents outlining their options for protecting their child’s information.

The Selective Service already requires men in the United States to register for the draft within 30 days of their 18th birthday.[iii]  Nevertheless, recruiters are determined to aggressively pursue students through mailings, phone calls, and personal visits – even if parents object.  “‘The only thing that will get us to stop contacting the family is if they call their congressman,’ says Major Johannes Paraan, head U.S. Army recruiter for Vermont and northeastern New York.  ‘Or maybe if the kid died, we’ll take them off our list.’”[iv]  Military recruiters are eager to act on the wider access given to them because it is predicted to save the Department of Defense a significant amount of money, reducing recruitment costs which have climbed from $6,500 to $11,600 per enlistee in the past decade.[v]

Education and privacy advocates have spoken out against NCLB’s requirement to release student information to military recruiters.  Bruce Hunter of the American Association of School Administrators calls the law a “clear departure from the letter and the spirit of the current student privacy laws,” like the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which protects the privacy of student education records.[vi]  “For the federal government to ignore or discount the concerns of the privacy of millions of high school students is not a good thing,” said Jill Wynns, president of the San Francisco Board of Education, “and it’s something we should be concerned about.”[vii]

Others assert that high schools are not an appropriate place for military recruiters in the first place, and that their presence and aggressive recruitment of youth - often low-income youth of color - interferes with young people’s educational futures.  Military recruiters who target high school students effectively undercut educators’ efforts to convince students to continue onto college.  At Roosevelt High in East Los Angeles, there are 5 military recruiters for every college counselor.  At this predominantly Chicano (Mexican American) high school, “‘the recruiters prey on students who feel they have no other options: immigrant students trying to get citizenship and seniors lacking credits to graduate’…With a ‘drop-out’ rate of over 48 percent and low eligibility rates for college admittance, many Latinos view military enlistment as the only viable opportunity for economic survival.”[viii]  It is estimated that Latinos account for over 1/3 of active duty Marines and that people of color make up almost half of the Army.[ix]  With minorities disproportionately represented on the front lines, military recruiting functions as a kind of racial profiling, selectively targeting low-income, people of color.[x]

For many low-income people of color the military has been a route into the middle class.  Brent Wilkes, National Executive Director of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) says that “[w]hile we are concerned that low-income minority schools are targeted more than other schools [by military recruiters], we also recognize that the armed forces have provided opportunities for our youths when they aren’t ready for college…[t]he military has played a historic role in helping thousands of Hispanics move into the middle class, and we would not want to close that opportunity without looking carefully at how it would impact our youths.”[xi]

In addition to the rights of vulnerable youth, these realities call for an examination of the United States’ budget priorities.  The current Department of Education budget proposal for 2003 is $56.5 billion.  The Department of Defense budget for the next fiscal year is $396 billion, nearly seven times what is allocated for education, and more than three times the combined military budgets of Russia, China, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Libya, Cuba, Sudan and Syria.”[xii] 

The U.S. military’s current recruiting efforts in high schools threaten its obligations under the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, a companion treaty to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Also known as the child soldiers treaty, this protocol, ratified by the U.S. in 2002, sets the age of 18 as the minimum age for direct participation in combat, for compulsory recruitment, and for any recruitment or use in combat by non-governmental armed groups.[xiii]  The following quote asks challenging questions that are key to addressing the issue of military recruiters in the schools: 

“At the heart of this argument over students’ records and privacy is the true purpose and meaning of education.  Is the goal of education to provide a fertile field of students ripe for the picking by the military which will send them to the front lines of battle, potentially never to return?  Is the essence of education to dichotomize the availability of quality education between those with ample finances and those with no financial mobility?”[xiv]


  • Read Book of Resolutions (2000), #60 Child Soldiers (pp. 182-184) and Social Principles, Section G on Military Service
    (p. 61, BOR 2000.)
  • If you are the parent of a high school student, talk to your principal to make sure the school is aware of its responsibility to inform parents of the “opt-out” provision.  Find out where your state’s department of education stands on this issue and determine if they are monitoring whether local secondary schools are informing parents of their rights. Work with your local PTA to educate other parents about their right to request that their child’s name be withheld from lists given to military recruiters.
  • Contact the leadership of the Congressional Committees on Education:

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), Chair

(202) 224-3324

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), Ranking Member  (202) 224-4543


House Education and the Workforce Committee

Rep. John A. Boehner (R-OH), Chair

(202) 225-6205

Rep. George Miller (D-CA), Ranking Member - (202) 225-2095

  • For more information, contact the following organizations

    National PTA
    Washington Legislative Office
    1090 Vermont Avenue, NW Suite 1200
    Washington, D.C. 20005-4905
    (202) 289-6970

    American Friends Service Committee
    637 S. Dearborn
    Chicago, IL 60605
    (312) 427-2533 

    U.S. Department of Education
    Family Policy Compliance Office
    400 Maryland Avenue, SW
    Washington, DC 20202-4605
    (202) 260-3887                                                                                        

[i] Goodman, David, “No Child Unrecruited,” Mother Jones, November/December 2002, http://www.motherjones.com .

[ii] Ron Hutcheson, “New law helps military recruiters at high schools,” Knight Ridder News Service, November 29, 2002, http://www.olympus.net/personal/gofamily/co/recruiting.html .

[iii] Milligan, Susan, “Military Recruiters Getting a Foot in Door,” The Boston Globe, November 21, 2002,  http://www.commondreams.org .

[iv] Goodman.

[v] Hutcheson.

[vi] Goodman..

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Wells, Leah C., “No Child Left Along By Military Recruiters,” December 6, 2002,  http://www.commondreams.org .

[ix] “Military Recruiting,” Madison Area Peace Coalition, http://www.madpeace.org/Wiki/Military%20Recruiting .

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Aguilera, Elizabeth, “Marching orders: Activists seek ban on public-school military programs,” The Denver Post, April 6, 2003, http://www.ccmep.org .

[xii] Sánchez , Luis, “Latino Students Besieged by Military Recruiters,” Alternet, May 17, 2002, http://www.alternet.org .

[xiii] “U.S. ratifies treaty on child soldier ban,” Isis International Manila, January, 2003, http://www.isiswomen.org .

[xiv] Wells.

Date posted: Dec 19, 2003