Support our troops? Support education choice for their kids

MOVE OUT: U.S. Marines at Camp Pendleton, California, preparing for deployment, Oct. 24, 2017. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by LCpl Anabel Abreu Rodriguez)

Among the many burdens we place on military families, there’s frequent re-location from one military duty station to another – one year you’re in North Carolina, the next in Southern California or Norfolk, Virginia or even Germany or Japan. These are not combat zones but some of the places the military send both the military member and his or her spouse and family. Part of that is requiring children of a military family to pack up and move their lives, including their ongoing education, to another state or even nation.

In California, there are 32 military bases of all four branches plus the Coast Guard with thousands of military families at each base. At Camp Pendleton alone there are 42,000 active duty military personnel serving on base – many, many of them with families that include school-age children.

Those children (and their parents) find themselves at the mercy of the local public school districts. Sometimes these schools are perform poorly – or are even rated “failing” year after year with no change in sight. Sometimes, the child has special education or other needs that the local school simply cannot take care of.

Like most states, California does not have school-choice options available for such military families. Here, the children of military families are stuck in the school that is simply nearest their parents’ military duty station.

Private school is rarely an option for low-paid military families – the tuition is simply beyond reach. Studies reveal that many times military families, faced with the prospect of placing their children in a school that does not meet their child’s needs, exit the military.

The resulting troop loss is no small matter. Taxpayers pay hundreds of millions of dollars to train military members in many different occupations. Mechanics (jets, trucks, tanks, etc.), doctors, nurses, pilots, special forces, supply or logistics specialists, etc., etc., etc. – all are vital to the national defense. When military members leave the service, our armed forces lose those members’ years of experience, leadership and the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars spent in training them. This places a significant burden on the military budget to replace those service members. In short our national security suffers greatly and this is costly to taxpayers.

There’s a proposal that will largely solve this problem. H.R. 5199 (introduced by Rep. Jim Banks, R–IN) and Senate version S.2517 (Senator Ben Sasse, R–NE) will amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1964. It is also known as the Education Savings Accounts for Military Families Act of 2018.

Under these bills, military families would be allowed to establish education savings accounts. It would transition Impact Aid funds the Federal Government already pays to local school districts for the education of military dependents into these accounts. Then the parents could choose the school of their choice – the best place for their child’s education needs. Private schools, parochial schools, private tutoring and even homeschooling expenses would be approved expenses under H.R. 5199. And if there is money left over at the end of the school year, it can be rolled over for the next year – or even for college. Funds not used by the time the child leaves the education system are paid back to the government and the educational savings account for that child is closed.

Just as in the current public school system, the money would follow the child; unlike the current California system, those funds would be allowed to follow the child outside of the public school system. Parents, not a Zip code, would determine educational choice for a child.

Educational Savings Accounts are already a proven success in providing a better education for children. H.R. 5199 will allow military families, including thousands of families stationed in California, the freedom to make the best choices possible for their children. This will likely be a major factor in whether many servicemen and women elect to stay in the military.

Congress members should co-sponsor and vote yes on H.R. 5199 or make this proposal part of the National Defense Authorization Act which is passed every year by Congress to fund our military.

Craig P. Alexander is an attorney and former U.S. Marine who serves as general counsel to the California Policy Center. His office is located in Dana Point, California and his practice includes insurance, commercial leasing, business contracts, the California Public Records Act and HOA law and litigation. He can be reached at Craig@CraigAlexanderLaw.com.