The Education Savings Accounts for Military Families Act of 2018 (H.R. 5199), introduced by Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), will allow parents of military-dependent children to establish voluntary Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) to pay for whatever educational service works best for their children. Similarly to how veterans receive federal funding through the G.I. bill to attend any college he or she chooses, this legislation provides federal funding directly to military parents and children to attend any school or education service provider they choose.
Providing education choice to families in uniform is essential for military readiness because recruiting and retaining talent in the military is vital to our national security. According to a survey conducted by Military Times, 35 percent of active duty military families say that dissatisfaction with their children's education was a significant factor in their decision to remain or leave military service. By providing education choice through ESAs, the military will possess a key tool to both attract and retain military families while also saving millions in military resources.
As Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said, Congress has “an opportunity in that regard to empower them with some more of those choices.” An ESA, she continued, would afford military families “a much different dynamic and approach to be able to get their education in the way that best works for them.”
The Banks proposal would transition a portion of funding from a federal program known as the Impact Aid program into ESAs for children from military families. A military family could then choose to use the account to pay for any education-related service, product, or provider that meets the specific needs of their child. This would provide children of active-duty military families with education choice, while ensuring the federal program serves military families as well as they serve the nation.
Lindsey Burke, Director, Center for Education Policy and Will Skillman Fellow in Education at The Heritage Foundation, examines how schooling options available to military-connected children affect military readiness in a 2017 report titled A GI Bill for Children of Military Families: Transforming Impact Aid into Education Savings Accounts:
The number and quality of educational options available to children from military families affects military readiness, because education plays a role in whether a family accepts an assignment, even factoring into decisions to leave military service altogether. Important as education is to military parents, more than half of all active-duty military families live in states with no school choice options at all.
As The Heritage Foundation notes, a growing body of literature finds that school choice is associated with parental satisfaction, student safety, academic achievement, and increased graduation rates. According to a recent survey, military respondents were almost five times more likely to support ESAs than they were to oppose them (72 percent favor vs. 15 percent oppose.)
In order to ensure those who serve in the military to protect the U.S. are able to access education options that serve them in the best way possible, federal policymakers should work to empower children of military families with education choice. The Education Savings Accounts for Military Families Act of 2018 is an appropriate use of federal power and the type of initiative our men and women in uniform deserve.