Recently, a coalition of military associations came out against legislation supported by the Trump administration, that would give greater school-choice options to military service members and their children. Their letter to lawmakers, sadly, puts the concerns of school district bureaucracies above the clear needs and preferences of military families.
The bill, the Education Savings Accounts for Military Families Act of 2018, by Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., designates a small part of the federal Impact Aid program for use as education savings accounts, or ESAs, for children of military families. ESAs are individual accounts from which recipients can draw funds to use for private-school tuition, personal tutors, and other education expenses.
The $1.3 billion Impact Aid program was designed to send federal funding to school districts that educate children from military families. Rather than focusing on the needs of military members and their children, the letter by the coalition of military associations focuses mainly on the fallout for school districts.
The letter claims that designating some Impact Aid dollars to ESAs would be “financially devastating for many school districts.” Yet, according to education researcher Jonathan Butcher of the Heritage Foundation, the ESA legislation would only result in microscopic budget reductions for school districts of anywhere from 0.1 percent to 1.8 percent.
The letter says, “Military families place a high value on the quality of their children’s education,” and therefore, federal funds would be better spent going to school districts rather than going to ESAs for military families. Evidently, these military associations, which proclaim that they represent more than five million current and former service members and their families, forgot to ask service members about what they think.
In a 2017 scientific survey of 1,200 active-duty military service members, veterans, and their spouses, a staggering 72 percent favored ESAs versus just 15 percent who opposed them. Of those who supported ESAs, the three most common reasons were the potential to access better academic environment, more freedom and flexibility for parents, and more focus on individual attention for children.
Also, while 34 percent of survey respondents said they preferred a public school, a virtually equal share, 33 percent, said they preferred a private school as the first option for their child.
In addition, Military Times conducted a survey last year of its readers and found that 35 percent of respondents said that dissatisfaction with the education provided by local public schools was a significant factor in their decision to remain in or leave military service.
You may wonder whey military families feel so strongly in favor of school choice. For just one example, take the case of 19-year Army soldier Alex Young and his daughter India, who attended Hand Middle School in Richland County in South Carolina. Because she was an honors student, India became the subject of violent bullying by some of her fellow African-American students. She was pushed down a flight of stairs, violently shoved into a table, beaten with a bottle, and slammed in the face with a backpack so hard that it broke her teeth and caused blood to gush from her nose.
India said, “I don’t even have a number for how many times I’ve cried at school.” And what did school and district officials do to help India? Nothing.
India’s father Alex, the career Army soldier, said: “You get angry. You get very, very angry when you call the school, show up at the school and call the district office and show up at school board meetings and no one will do anything about it, meanwhile your child is being terrorized. It’s devastating as a parent. Devastating.”
Alex says that India is suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, like soldiers coming back from war, and is now seeing a therapist. India’s parents have filed a federal lawsuit against the school district alleging “deliberate indifference to the severe, pervasive, and/or objectively offensive race-based harassment” that deprived India of “access to educational opportunities and benefits.”
ESAs for military families would provide the educational opportunity that children like India deserve and give incentive for public schools to improve. It is time to for our nation to prioritize military children like India Young, not the school bureaucracies who are failing them.