I was disturbed to read a 2017 Military Times survey that found that 35% of service members pointed to dissatisfaction with their children’s education as a “significant factor” in deciding whether to continue their military service.
A big part of the military’s readiness is its retention rate. If more service members stay enlisted for longer, our military gets bigger and more experienced. In an era of great power competition, the U.S. must support and sustain the all-volunteer forces who dedicate their lives to service.
Improving military families’ access to education should be pursued with the same urgency given to other crucial parts of our national security strategy.
The answer lies in providing parents with choice.
The reason servicemen and servicewomen are often dissatisfied with their children’s educational options is because they can’t choose where they live, and so have fewer school options than almost anyone else in America.
Most American families can’t afford private schools, and despite the valiant efforts of school choice advocates, vouchers remain rare, and charter schools make up just 7% of publicly funded schools nationwide.
But at least most Americans can do their best to live in areas with decent public schools. Parents are willing to do and pay a lot to make that happen, which is why housing prices correlate so closely with the quality of public education.
Military parents are willing to pay a lot, too, but those payments just look different. In that same Military Times poll, 40% said they would decline a reassignment and pay increase to keep their kids in their current high-performing school.
It’s a travesty that military members are forced to choose between their children’s education and their own career.
Congress can alleviate this critical problem by supporting education savings accounts for military families.
That’s why I introduced the Education Savings Accounts for Military Families Act in my first term in Congress in 2018 and again in 2019 with the support of 93 of my colleagues. I’ll be introducing it for the third time on Thursday.
It instructs the secretary of education to establish education savings accounts on behalf of military families that choose to opt in. The accounts can be directed toward—among other things—private school tuition, textbooks and learning supplies, private tutoring, and contributions to college savings accounts.
We hold members of the armed service in such high esteem in part because we recognize the sacrifices they make to keep us safe. We should do everything we can to minimize the effects of that sacrifice on their children’s future.
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