This School Voucher Plan Is Not the Answer for Military Families
By: MJ Boice, Staff Writer
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