Families at Fort Campbell, the Army base along the Kentucky-Tennessee border, learned this week that they would not be getting the new middle school they were expecting because funding has diverted for a border wall between the United States and Mexico.
The New York Times reports that construction of the school is one of 127 projects that will be suspended to shift $3.6 billion to the wall.
The Pentagon’s decision to divert $62.6 million from the construction of Fort Campbell’s middle school means that 552 students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades will continue to cram themselves in classrooms at the base’s aging Mahaffey Middle School.
Teachers at Mahaffey will continue to use mobile carts to store their books, lesson plans and homework assignments because there is not enough classroom space. Students stuffed into makeshift classrooms-within-classrooms will continue to strain to figure out which lesson to listen to and which one to filter out.
And since the cafeteria at Mahaffey is not big enough to seat everyone at lunchtime, some students will continue to eat in the school library.
Across the globe, projects like the Fort Campbell middle school have been shelved, including an elementary school in Wiesbaden, Germany, and a cyberoperations center in Virginia.
Defense Department officials insist that military construction projects are not being canceled and said that their hope was to get Congress to replace the funding for the middle school and the other projects.
But, privately, several department officials acknowledged that their position was tenuous. After circumventing the will of a Congress that refused to fund the wall, the department faces an uphill task trying to persuade lawmakers to put money back into projects whose money has been diverted by the Pentagon to the wall.
Mahaffey Middle School, around 40 years old, has for more than a decade been in want of deep renovations. As far back as 2007, the Senate Armed Services Committee was hearing testimony from local teachers that the school needed help. The problems persist today, Fort Campbell service members say.
Two years ago the base’s other middle school, Wassom Middle School, shut down, and those students were all sent to Mahaffey, nearly doubling the size of the student body. Teachers and parents were told that this would be a stopgap measure while a new, unified Fort Campbell Middle School would be housed in the old Fort Campbell High School, which would be renovated. The base’s high school students moved to the new Fort Campbell High School last year.
Now, the stay at Mahaffey is extended indefinitely.
“This is like a gut punch to this faculty,” says Venita Garnett, the president of the Fort Campbell Education Association, the local teachers’ union. “And who is carrying the burden of so many years of war? It’s these schoolchildren.”