Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection

Officials with the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) and the U.S. Army Cadet Command presented a three-year initiative that could serve as a national pilot program for the Junior Reserved Officers Training Corps (JROTC) during the July 25 meeting of the legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection.

Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) Associate Commissioner Beth Hargis with the Office of Career and Technical Education (OCTE) requested $1.2 million in funding over two years for the Kentucky JROTC Director of Army Instruction (DAI) pilot program, which would be the first of its kind in the nation. The funding would cover base salaries and fringe benefits to fully implement the program.

The six-member DAI shop would consist of the DAI, a sergeant major over operations, two assistant directors of Army Instruction and two military property specialists.

“From a per-student perspective, this would entail a $77.61 investment based on the 2022-2023 Kentucky JROTC enrollment,” said Hargis.

Col. Edwin L. Chilton, commander of the 7th Brigade, U.S. Army Cadet Command, said JROTC trains and mentors students to be better citizens in all communities.

There are currently 8,038 students enrolled in JROTC in the state. Of those, 70% are enrolled in Army JROTC programs.

State-employed DAI personnel would be able to standardize all Army JROTC programs.

With KDE and the U.S. Army working in conjunction, the state DAI pilot program would provide administrative, logistical and management oversight to Army JROTC programs in Kentucky, along with approved educational instruction and systemic processes. The state DAI also would ensure increased collaboration between the OCTE and participating school districts.

“We do have data that shows that JROTC programs that fall under a DAI are more standardized and more efficient than those that stand alone,” Chilton said.

Kentucky currently has 62 stand-alone JROTC programs. The junior instructors, who are retired military personnel, are employed by the local school district.

The JROTC curriculum focuses on areas of importance to “our communities and the students’ future career,” Chilton said. Areas include leadership development, team building, government and citizenship. The benefits of JROTC for students include access to robotics, drones, a new cyber program and competitive team-building events.

Cognia, a national accrediting agency, assesses all JROTC programs on academics every three years to maintain national accreditation. Most recently, JROTC scored 368 out of a possible 400 on Cognia’s Index of Education Quality, a grading scale used to quantify how well an institution adheres to national education standards in teaching and learning.

“A tangible result that we see from these programs is a higher GPA (grade point average) and attendance with JROTC students compared to their school averages,” said Chilton.

The state DAI role and responsibilities would be:

  • Improve oversight, property accountability, logistics and acquisition processes for Kentucky JROTC programs;
  • Assist schools with recruiting, selecting and retaining the most qualified JROTC instructor candidates; and
  • Serve as the 7th Brigade primary point of contact for JROTC planning and operations, classroom instruction quality and co-curricular event coordination in Kentucky.

From a KDE perspective, Tom Thompson, director of OCTE’s Student Transition and Career Readiness Division, said, there would be:

  • Consistent JROTC implementation and oversight,
  • High-quality instructor recruitment;
  • Enhanced equipment/materials procurement and dissemination; 
  • Increased instructor efficacy;
  • Increased instructional rigor and relevance;
  • Increased student achievement;
  • Three-Year Certificate of Training provided by the JROTC programs and recognized by the Kentucky Workforce Innovation Board as an industry certification for post-secondary readiness; and
  • Increased collaboration between the OCTE and the Army.

Thompson also said there are other benefits from this collaboration that would impact STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs such as health science and nursing, engineering, computer science and virtual reality, because they can also use some of the JROTC equipment.

If successful here, Chilton said, the U.S. Army Cadet Command will implement the program across the nation.

“Kentucky would be the first state to do this and be recognized as the pilot for that,” he added.

Praising the JROTC program, state Sen. Jimmy Higdon said it helps provide direction to a lot of young people.

“I would certainly be supportive if you are going to take one of the best programs we have in the state and improve it,” he said.