Americans want to honor the veterans and servicemembers who sacrifice so much to defend our country. That’s why we have holidays like Memorial Day. Yet members of our military deserve more than speeches and parades. They deserve parental choice in education.
“[W]hile our service members fight for our freedoms abroad, too many military families are denied education freedom at home,” says deputy U.S. Secretary of Education Mitchell Zais in his recent Military Times article. And Zais should know: he served in the U.S. Army for 31 years and retired as a brigadier general.
The lack of parental choice in education hits military families especially hard because they can’t just pick up and move if their neighborhood public schools aren’t meeting their children’s needs. Not only does a lack of educational options hurt military families, it has negative consequences for the rest of Americans as well, as Zais explains:
Beyond impairing military recruitment, a lack of education freedom hurts military retention. Recently, the commanding general of one of the Army’s largest training installations told me he was having difficulty recruiting drill sergeants due to the poor local schools. In fact, 40 percent of respondents recently told the Military Times that they “have either declined or would decline a career-advancing job at a different installation to remain at their current military facility because of high performing schools.” Thirty-five percent said that dissatisfaction with their children’s education was a “significant factor” in their decision to remain in or leave military service.
Not surprisingly a majority of military families support various types of parental choice, according to a recent survey of military families conducted by EdChoice. It found that nearly three out of four military families favor education savings accounts (ESAs), while two out of three support voucher scholarships and public charter schools.
Today, more than 500,000 students are attending the private schools of their parents’ choice through ESAs, publicly-financed voucher scholarship programs, and privately-financed tax-credit scholarship programs in over 30 states, including Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.
Importantly, a growing number of those programs have expanded their eligibility criteria to include children from military families or those whose parents were killed while serving their country, including programs in Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina.
States should continue enacting and expanding parental choice programs, but there are policies Congress should pursue that wouldn’t expand the federal footprint into education.
One policy recommended by The Heritage Foundation would distribute Impact Aid to military families directly in the form of ESAs, which parents could use to pay for the education they think is best for their children. In fact, legislation to create such a program was reintroduced by Congressman Jim Banks of Indiana in March.
Another policy would be distributing G.I. Bill benefits to veterans in the form of military ESAs so parents could pay for their children’s elementary and secondary education as well as college education if they wish.
Parental choice programs like these would go a long way toward improving educational opportunities for military families and would be a lasting, tangible expression of gratitude for their sacrifices. As Zais concludes:
As a military child, military parent, and educator, I know all families want their children to succeed. That starts with the best possible education. For America to lead, from the classroom to the international stage, American families, especially our military families, need education freedom.