President Donald Trump made helping the “forgotten man” a key theme of his presidency from the get-go.
The challenge for Trump is how to aid the forgotten man by shrinking the programs and institutions that left him behind to begin with while moving toward policies that will help him thrive in the 21st century.
One of the forefronts of that important shift is in expanding education choice, which Trump has announced as one of the priorities of his administration.
In Trump’s first speech to a joint session of Congress he said, “I am calling upon members of both parties to pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth.”
The answer is to create school choice within existing federal education programs that actually have a constitutional warrant, not the least of which is a program designed to serve our armed forces.
The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke and Anne Ryland propose just that in their paper, “A GI Bill for Children of Military Families: Transforming Impact Aid into Education Savings Accounts,” which was recently profiled by The Washington Post.
In a clear reference to the famous GI Bill of the 1940s, which provided education benefits to soldiers upon their return home from World War II, Burke and Ryland’s proposal would bring better education options to over 600,000 children of military families.
The proposal is an innovative way to further the school choice revolution that will hopefully transform America’s K-12 education system, while specifically helping our heroes’ most precious commodities: their children.
Our Constitution is explicit in the necessity to provide for national defense. This plan will help ensure that we provide for those who stand as its bulwark.
Failing Those Who Serve
The paper highlighted how a survey conducted by the Military Times found that a staggering 35 percent of military personnel surveyed said that unhappiness with their child’s education was a critical factor in their decision to remain or leave the armed services.
Many of these families live in states and localities with failing public schools, so if they wish to continue serving their country, they may have to do so amid concerns about the schooling options available to their children.
This is unacceptable, and should be concerning to Americans who believe in taking care of the people who dedicate their lives to defending this country.
Military families already bear the strain of long deployments, constant travel, and stress of deploying into harm’s way.
Additional pressures on our troops, such as concern about their children receiving the education that is right for them, is one Congress can and should attempt to resolve.
However, over half of active-duty military families in the U.S. dwell in states that have no school choice options for them to escape to if their local public schools do not align with their needs.
High-population states like California and Texas, which have the highest number of military families, have no private school choice options whatsoever.
This problem can be alleviated by having Congress redirect roughly $1.3 billion in funds from the Impact Aid program, created to bring federal tax dollars to school districts with military and federally-connected populations, directly to military families through education savings accounts specifically created for them.
Importantly, it would require no additional taxpayer money and would simply be using funds that already exist.
But like with other school choice programs, interest groups have come out to attack any proposal that breaks up the government school monopoly.
Breaking the Status Quo
The National Association of Federally Impacted Schools’ director charged that the military kids school choice plan was “misguided” in a recent interview with Politico, and claimed that it would “dismantle a program based on fairness to taxpayers.”
This echoes arguments that teacher unions in particular have made about school choice in general.
Changing funding mechanisms from districts to individuals threatens the exclusive control over how the money is used, but empowers parents and individuals to decide for themselves what services work best for them.
The National Association of Federally Impacted Schools also released a statement saying that “changing Impact Aid into an [education savings account] would burden local taxpayers with higher taxes and require students to go without.”
The charge that the plan would raise taxes for districts is incorrect. There is simply no reason to increase local taxes to pay for students who are no longer in the public system.
Even the Obama administration recognized the need for reforming Impact Aid.
In recent budget requests, both the Trump and Obama administrations suggested eliminating Impact Aid for federal property, arguing that districts have had plenty of time to adjust their tax rolls to federal acquisitions made decades ago, and that Impact Aid dollars should be directed to federally connected children.
The Obama fiscal year budget request said:
It is the administration’s policy to use available Impact Aid funds to help pay for the education on federally connected children and fund programs that serve federally connected children. Payments for federal property compensates LEAs [districts] for lost property tax revenue due to the presence of federal lands without regard to whether those districts educate any federally connected children as a result of federal presence.
Implicit in that argument is that if the kids aren’t there, the dollars should follow them to where they are: their chosen schools. If the kids leave a district school, the dollars should follow the child.
The Next Generation
Adopting school choice to better serve those who serve us would be a major boon to these families who have carried an enormous weight for the rest of us.
It would also help ensure that the next generation of military personnel—who in very high numbers come from military families—receive a first-rate education that will help them through life.
It will ease the minds and burdens of these families if Congress and Trump can give them the tools they need to thrive. We have a duty not to forget or neglect these people to whom we owe so much.
The forgotten child of the forgotten man will be given the opportunity to succeed and pursue the American dream.