As a third-generation Army wife and the mother of four school-age children, I am immensely grateful that my family has had the privilege of living among America’s heroes.
Yet, life as a military family has also provided some unique challenges. In the past 15 years of marriage, our family has lived in seven homes at five different duty stations, gone through two yearlong deployments, and experienced numerous months apart owing to field trainings and schools.
My story is in no way unique. This is the military lifestyle, and thousands of families across our nation are choosing to live it.
As the wife of a soldier, I have experienced these challenges most keenly on the home front, both in my approach to our children’s education and the regularly shifting family dynamics.
Recently, Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., introduced the Education Savings Accounts for Military Families Act. For the 1.2 million school-age military children and their parents—families very much like my own—this bill gives us cause for hope.
An education savings account would provide parents with access to education options that are a good fit for their children using specially designated funds.
Banks’ policy proposal is common sense and a much-needed option for military families.
Here are three reasons why.
Parental Empowerment in a Highly Transient Environment
Moving every few years is stressful. Every move our family has made has been met with anticipation, excitement, and stress. Moving stress is not unique to military families, but having grown up as an Army brat, I can most assuredly confirm that we have perfected it.
In addition to frequent moves, deployments are life-changing events that can contribute to a sense of stress and disempowerment.
Is it any wonder that more than one-quarter of active-duty service members with school-age children cite more time with family and other family-related issues as the key factors in their decision to leave the military?
Empowering parents with more control over such a critical area of their child’s upbringing may help mitigate a declining retention rate among certain military populations.
Before my husband left for his most recent deployment, he was sent to Washington state for training.
It was during the middle of the school year, and we had to decide whether the kids and I would stay back in North Carolina for those 45 days that he was still in the country or follow him there so we could be together as long as possible. We chose the latter.
So, we packed up the kids and their piles of schoolbooks, gave the neighbors a house key, and drove to the other side of the country.
Had we not been able to homeschool that year, my children would not have had that additional time with their father.
If you’ve ever had to say an uncertain goodbye to a loved one, you know those moments before you part ways are some of the most precious you’ll ever have.
Homeschooling can be an incredibly beneficial option for military families, and that assertion is borne out in the data, with the military homeschooling rate double that of the civilian counterpart. It is especially high among black and Hispanic families.
Education savings accounts would undoubtedly play a role in making this type of portable education accessible to more families. Children could also use the accounts for online courses, which can provide continuity in their coursework and education when moving from state to state.
Impact Aid Funds Follow the Child, Create Competition
Creating a market where public and private schools must compete for military families’ business would foster a healthy economic environment that would spur innovation and lead to higher standards.
Costco inspires Sam’s Club to be a better retailer, and Dunkin’ Donuts challenges Krispy Kreme. The education industry responds to market signals in the same way.
In this way, education savings accounts can contribute to a healthy education market in communities that are largely driven by military-related commerce.
When moms and dads feel empowered to make important decisions on behalf of their children, they are filled with a confidence that transcends otherwise difficult circumstances.
When schools are allowed to compete with one another, it provides hardworking educators with a chance to showcase their institution’s excellence, because they know they’ll have a fair shot in the educational marketplace.
And finally, when unique circumstances dictate that parents seek out nontraditional education options for their kids, whether it be because of a low-performing school district or a parent’s impending deployment, school choice proves invaluable.
Making children from military families eligible for an education savings account is one of the best ways our policymakers can support those who serve.