Military Families Deserve School Choice
As a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserves and the most recently deployed member of Congress, I know firsthand that serving in the armed forces requires tremendous sacrifice. As a husband and father of three young daughters, I know the decision to serve is never taken lightly.
To prepare for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s uncertainties, our military leaders must identify new and creative ways to boost recruitment efforts. In 2015, there were 1,340,533 active-duty troops—marking the smallest active-duty force since 2001.
As Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley recently said, “We need to grow in order to meet the demands that the nation expects at the readiness levels it expects.” Military readiness includes recruiting and retaining the best and brightest. We must do more to attract top-quality service members and maintain a top-quality military.
That begins with removing unnecessary barriers, which is why Wednesday I am introducing the Education Savings Accounts for Military Families Act. A 2017 survey of Military Times readers showed that educational opportunities play an important role in determining whether a military family accepts a particular assignment—or even remains in the service at all. Thirty-five percent of service members have considered leaving the military because of the limited education options available, and 40% have either declined or would decline a career-advancing opportunity at a different installation if it meant their child would have to leave a high-performing school.
In addition to these sobering statistics, half of all service members live in states with no school-choice options. Military education savings accounts would allow military-dependent children to use a portion of funds currently allocated to the Federal Impact Aid program—which provides school districts with revenue lost due to the presence of tax-exempt federal property—to pay for educational expenses such as private-school tuition, textbooks, online programs, tutoring, computer equipment and college savings. Account balances could roll over every year and the autonomy of education providers would be preserved.
With a military ESA, dollars would follow the student rather than the school. Portability is key for students who are often required to move because of a change in a parent’s military assignment. This flexibility would allow military families the freedom to tailor their children’s education to best fit their learning needs and maximize academic achievement.
Making better education options available would help our armed services find and keep the highest-quality personnel, and it would give parents who serve the peace of mind to focus on their missions.
There is a clear path forward and strong momentum to enact this policy. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has endorsed the idea of military ESAs, and my legislation already has strong support in Congress.
The men and women who serve our country in uniform make sacrifices daily, but the education of their children should not be one of them.
Mr. Banks, a Republican, represents Indiana’s Third Congressional District.