The Pentagon will award more grants this summer for schools -- all on military installations -- that need repairs or expansions, he told a group of hundreds at the Military Child Education Coalition's national training seminar in Grapevine.
He said the department has another program to ease the transition when kids are uprooted during the academic year. For example, military children who move during the school year now have their immunization records easily transferred.
The U.S. has 1.5 million school-age children in military families. They will have moved an average of six to nine times before graduating from high school.
The youngsters have unique needs because many are suffering from losing a parent, or missing one who is deployed and has missed their birthday and holidays, Panetta said.
"These sacrifices, large and small, take a toll on military children over time," he said.
Military children who have traveled extensively also are an asset because they bring a unique perspective to the classroom, he said. The military supports math and science initiatives and expanding foreign language programs for military kids, many who grow up to become soldiers, Panetta said.
"Education is not only important to their future but important to the future of our military and the nation," he said. "The bottom line is that our military is better able to defend the country when we address the long-term educational need of those who serve and their children."
The non-profit Military Child Education Coalition, based in Harker Heights, just outside Fort Hood, was formed to help teachers and others address issues facing military children.
At the two-day seminar, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, will talk about the unique issues affecting soldiers' children, and the top leaders of all military branches will discuss how those children can achieve their potential and become leaders.