This School Voucher Plan Is Not the Answer for Military Families

Impact Aid 550px

Military families most often do not have control over many aspects of military life, such as the number of PCS moves they will make over time, the length or frequency of military deployments and sometimes, whether or not their child will be in a desirable school district.

A recent proposal through the Heritage Foundation attempts to promote school choice for military families by turning Federal Impact Aid funds into a voucher system they refer to as Education Savings Accounts (ESA). The idea that military families would have more control over educational options for their child may sound attractive, however, the devil is in the details.

“While the idea of a voucher for military-connected kids might be appealing on the surface, using Impact Aid to fund such a program is a bad deal for military families, and a disaster for public schools across the country,” said NMFA Deputy Director of Government Relations, Eileen Huck.

To understand why using Impact Aid to fund a school voucher program for military kids is such a bad idea, it helps to know why Impact Aid exists in the first place.

Public schools receive most of their revenue from state and local sources, like local property tax. However, federal land isn’t taxable. So a school district that includes federal property, like a military installation, has less revenue from property taxes. Impact Aid was created to correct that imbalance and offset the lost property tax revenue. It’s also weighted, so school districts more heavily impacted by federal presence receive a larger share of the funding. This money goes directly to the school district, which can use it as they see fit: to pay for supplies, teacher salaries, maintenance, etc.

Under the Heritage Foundation’s proposal, Impact Aid would be funneled directly into an Education Savings Account (ESA) controlled by the child’s parents. The premise is that parents would be able to pay towards any education option they believe would be a ‘good fit’ for their children; including online learning, special education services, or private school tuition.

However, the proposal stops short of explaining how the program would actually be implemented. “The proposals included in the Heritage Foundation report reflect a profound misunderstanding of the function of Impact Aid,” said NMFA Executive Director Joyce Raezer.

Take, for example, Heritage Foundation’s suggested scenario of using an ESA to send a military-connected student to a private school:

“Sarah lives off base and goes to school in a heavily impacted district in a state without a school choice program.

Sarah and her parents receive $4,607 in Impact Aid dollars on a restricted-use debit card. They can use this Education Savings Account to help to help her attend local private school, to hire a tutor, or purchase online classes and curricula.”

Currently, the national average for private school tuition cost is around $10,000 per year. In the above scenario, Sarah’s parents could choose to use their ESA towards that cost, but would still have to foot over half the tuition bill themselves. “This sets unrealistic expectations among military families, who will be left holding the bag when the promised ESA’s aren’t enough to finance their children’s education,” said Raezer.

Some military families may be able to afford the remaining cost of private school tuition, but what about the families who aren’t able to make up the difference? The Heritage proposal suggested 126,000 military-connected students would be eligible for ESA. “There are over half a million school-aged military connected kids. Realistically, not all of them would be able to benefit from a voucher program funded by Impact Aid,” Huck explained. “It would, essentially, create a system of have and have-nots.”

Aside from the glaring misrepresentation of Impact Aid funding, the Heritage Foundation also seems to ignore the long-term impacts their proposal would have on heavily impacted school districts. Impact Aid currently goes directly to the schools; pooling those funds into a school would go much further than individual students would be able to with an ESA.

School districts also get paid more on a weighted basis for each student in areas with a high military population. Many school systems in heavily impacted areas would be completely defunded without the use of Impact Aid. If a military family can’t afford the full cost of private tuition, their child is left in a school that no longer has the resources to provide a quality education.

NMFA does not oppose school choice options, however we strongly oppose proposals that would transition Impact Aid into a voucher program for military-connected kids – especially since there is no scenario where every military kid would receive those funds.

Instead of undermining public school systems through ESAs, perhaps we should be fully funding Federal Impact Aid, which hasn’t seen full funding since 1969. It makes no sense to defund Impact Aid just to deliver a benefit of questionable value to only a fraction of our nation’s military families.

Posted March 1, 2018

Comments

From: Jeanne on: June 11, 2018
I am opposed to any plan that takes money from the public schools. A voucher plan is not the answer. The voters have turned down vouchers in election after election in California. This is just an attempt to slide in vouchers when voters don't want them.
From: Margaret on: June 10, 2018
Please respect public schools and our military families. Don't put military families in this position.
From: Adriana Lopez on: June 4, 2018
The voucher system is not good for our school children.
From: Carole Erickson on: June 3, 2018
Military families have enough disruptions in their lives from frequent moves, expensive rentals and below-average pay. Many have been on food stamps in our county so charter schools that make major profits by partial tuition benefits are ripping of ALL families who want quality education for their children. Don't add to the hardships by pretending that these families do not matter.
From: Tanya on: May 28, 2018
I am opposed to any plan that takes away money from the public schools.
From: Leamargie on: May 21, 2018
Miltary children should be held to same policies that civilian students are governed by. Making exceptions causes problems.
From: John and Martha on: May 20, 2018
Maintain the separation of church and state! No voucher program
From: Barbara on: May 18, 2018
`The voucher program is a bad idea for military families and taxpayers. PTA and myself are opposed.
From: Dianne on: May 14, 2018
Don't short change military kid's school!
From: Alain on: May 7, 2018
I dont get why people are against this? I'm for it, when my father was stationed in San Diego the school board forced us to go to a certain school within our school district boundaries. The middle school and high school I was in was just horrible. The students were beating up each other because they were from opposing gangs. My high school biology teacher teaching us about her political view points, not relating to biology. I even had a psychology teacher told me that military kids were the ones doing the mass shooting... man so much more. Why shouldn't we empower the parents to pick schools? My child will be going to a private school because of my bad experiences with public school system who are to politically aligned, I'm against any form of political teaching if the class is not related to politics because that's just plain indoctrination.
From: judy on: May 7, 2018
This is very scary. Military families are so totally underappreciated. They, too, are the people who keep us free. Protect the children and their educations and let us stop pretending that vouchers are another word for choice when the amount just will not cover the choices. Let's put more effort into funding and supervising quality, challenging education for these kids who are helping to defend our country. A soldier whose family is not safe, protected and valued cannot be expected to have the focus and determination required for the oath to give her life for this country!
From: Dan on: April 29, 2018
Vouchers to military schools is a bad bad idea. Military schools are supposed to be separate, different. Evidently some want them to not be.
From: pat on: April 22, 2018
I don't approve of the way money to help military kids goes to something other than the school the children will be attending.
From: Kim on: April 22, 2018
Voucher plan is not the answer!
From: Gloria on: April 22, 2018
Please do not put our service families in this position!
From: Robert on: April 22, 2018
“While the idea of a voucher for military-connected kids might be appealing on the surface, using Impact Aid to fund such a program is a bad deal for military families, and a disaster for public schools across the country,” said NMFA Deputy Director of Government Relations, Eileen Huck.
From: Mercy on: April 22, 2018
Don't short change military kid's school!
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