Ed­u­ca­tional free­dom for those who se­cure ours

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY ANNE RYLAND AND LINDSEY BURKE Anne Ryland is a re­search as­sis­tant in the Her­itage Foun­da­tion’s Cen­ter for Ed­u­ca­tion Pol­icy. The Cen­ter’s di­rec­tor, Lindsey Burke, is the think tank’s Will Skill­man Fel­low in Ed­u­ca­tion Stud­ies.

Last month at a pol­icy sum­mit for the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion for Chil­dren, Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy DeVos her­alded the ad­vent of “the most am­bi­tious ex­pan­sion of ed­u­ca­tion choice in our na­tion’s his­tory.” Pres­i­dent Trump, she said, was com­mit­ted to “em­pow­er­ing par­ents to make the best choices for their kids’ ed­u­ca­tion.”

One ma­jor step Congress could take to make this pledge a reality is to let “Im­pact Aid” — fed­eral funds now sent to pub­lic schools near mil­i­tary bases — flow di­rectly to the chil­dren of mil­i­tary fam­i­lies. If these funds were dis­trib­uted to ed­u­ca­tion sav­ings ac­counts (ESAs), mil­i­tary fam­i­lies should then be able to spend it on the ser­vices, prod­ucts and providers they de­ter­mine are best suited to meet their chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tional needs.

There is con­sti­tu­tional war­rant to jus­tify this type of pro­gram. Af­ter all, the life and sup­port of mil­i­tary fam­i­lies is a cru­cial part of our na­tional de­fense — an enu­mer­ated power of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

Pro­vid­ing school choice to mil­i­tary fam­i­lies strength­ens us all. When mil­i­tary fam­i­lies are given high-qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion op­tions, it ben­e­fits their chil­dren and the life and se­cu­rity of the na­tion as a whole.

The qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion avail­able to chil­dren of those in uni­form af­fects mil­i­tary readi­ness. Lack of ac­cess to good qual­ity schools can be a de­ter­min­ing fac­tor in the de­ci­sion of ser­vice mem­bers on whether they will ac­cept a new as­sign­ment or even leave mil­i­tary ser­vice al­to­gether.

A re­cent sur­vey con­ducted by Mil­i­tary Times found that 35 per­cent of re­spon­dents said dis­sat­is­fac­tion with their child’s ed­u­ca­tion was a “sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor” in their de­ci­sion to re­main in or leave mil­i­tary ser­vice.

The Pen­tagon’s changes to pol­icy in 2016 en­abling fam­i­lies to re­main at duty sta­tions for longer time pe­ri­ods was a di­rect re­sponse “to com­plaints by mil­i­tary par­ents who are loathe to move if the next duty sta­tion has poorly per­form­ing schools.”

Those com­plaints may stem from the fact that mil­i­tary-con­nected chil­dren are too often as­signed to the pub­lic schools clos­est to mil­i­tary bases, re­gard­less of whether those dis­trict schools are right for them. As a re­sult, 80 per­cent of the 1.2 mil­lion mil­i­tary-con­nected school-aged chil­dren at­tend tra­di­tional pub­lic schools, and 4 per­cent at­tend De­part­ment of De­fense schools lo­cated on base. More than half of chil­dren of ac­tive-duty mil­i­tary fam­i­lies live in states with no school choice op­tions at all.

Like their civil­ian-fam­ily coun­ter­parts, chil­dren of mil­i­tary fam­i­lies de­serve a choice in where they at­tend school. One of the best ways to ad­vance choice is through in­no­va­tive Ed­u­ca­tion Sav­ings Ac­counts.

ESAs are par­ent-con­trolled ac­counts funded with a por­tion (usu­ally 90 per­cent) of what a given state would have spent on a child in the dis­trict school sys­tem. Across the U.S., five states have es­tab­lished ESA op­tions: Ari­zona, Florida, Ten­nessee, Mis­sis­sippi and Ne­vada.

In Ari­zona, funds are de­posited quar­terly into the ESA (go­ing onto a debit card). Par­ents can then di­rect those funds to any ed­u­ca­tion-re­lated ser­vice, prod­uct or provider. They may be used to pay for pri­vate school tu­ition, on­line learn­ing, spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion ser­vices and ther­a­pies, pri­vate tu­tors, text­books, cur­ric­ula and any other ed­u­ca­tion-re­lated ser­vices of their choice. Par­ents are us­ing the flex­i­bil­ity of ESAs to cus­tom­ize ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ences for their chil­dren. Nearly one-third of par­ents in Ari­zona use their ESAs to craft a fully à la carte ed­u­ca­tional pro­gram.

To en­sure that those who serve in the mil­i­tary are able to ac­cess ed­u­ca­tion op­tions that serve them in the best way pos­si­ble, fed­eral pol­i­cy­mak­ers should work to em­power them with ed­u­ca­tion choice. Tran­si­tion­ing Im­pact Aid fund­ing into par­ent-con­trolled ed­u­ca­tion sav­ings ac­counts would en­sure that the fed­eral pro­gram serves mil­i­tary fam­i­lies as well as they serve us.

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