Opponents of school voucher programs recently learned of a new scheme that will hurt military-connected families around the country. Introduced as the Military Education Savings Account Act of 2018 (S. 2517/H.R 5199), the bill would create education savings accounts (ESAs), which would essentially establish a voucher program for military families. These ESAs would funnel money set aside for Impact Aid away from public schools and toward subsidizing the cost of private educations, including religious schools.
Impact Aid is a program that helps fund school districts that lose local tax revenue because their district includes federal tax-exempt land such as military bases or Native American reservations. This funding is critical for these school districts: every dollar that is siphoned off of impact aid will have a detrimental impact on the education of students in military families, Native American families, and other families living in areas that generate little tax revenue.
We know that vouchers present a myriad of issues, including that they actually offer little choice in practice, endanger the separation of church and state by using taxpayer dollars to subsidize the cost of religious education, and do not require private schools to follow the same rules that public schools must follow while purportedly offering an equivalent alternative to public education.
In addition to the issues that vouchers generally present, this particular proposal is rife with more. This program will offer military families only $2,500 (or $4,500 vouchers for students in specific districts), paling in comparison to the additional thousands of dollars it costs to finance a private education in schools around the country. In practice, this proposal would only help those families that can already afford to send children to private schools.
Most important, perhaps, is that those people who would be most hurt by this proposal have spoken out forcefully against the bill. The National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, the National Military Family Association, and the National Indian Education Association have all condemned this bill. So has the Military Coalition, which is comprised of associations representing over five million service members and veterans, stating that “Using Impact Aid dollars to fund Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) for military-connected students would be financially devastating for many school districts, critically compromising the quality of education they could provide to military children and their civilian classmates.”
It is critical that we speak out forcefully against this bill. It is likely that some Members of Congress will try to pass this legislation by including it in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which will soon undergo a mark-up process and review over the next few weeks on the Hill. I urge you to contact your representative and senators to let them know that you oppose this bill.