Jonathan Butcher | December 11, 2017
When quality education becomes a matter of national security
Jonathan Butcher (second from left) is pictured here at a 2014 panel discussion in Oklahoma City entitled "School Choice 2.0: Education Savings Accounts." Also pictured (from left) are OCPA distinguished fellow Andrew Spiropoulos, education researcher Matthew Ladner, and Heritage Foundation scholar Lindsey Burke.
By Jonathan Butcher
Surveys of our men and women in uniform indicate that finding a quality education for their children is a matter of national security.
A 2017 Military Times/Collaborative for Student Success survey of service members found that 35 percent of respondents said that “dissatisfaction with a child’s education was or is ‘a significant factor’ in deciding whether or not to continue military service.”
According to the Heritage Foundation’s 2018 Index of Military Strength, our armed forces already lack the resources they need. When quality of life indicators, such as access to a great education for their children, are a concern, the Military Times survey suggests more than one-third of our military could have second thoughts about extended service.
Washington should give our military families more access to learning opportunities. An EdChoice survey conducted by Braun Research, Inc., finds that 72 percent of active-duty members, veterans, and their spouses are in favor of using education savings accounts when informed of how the accounts work.
Now law in six states, education savings accounts give families the opportunity to customize a child’s education. States deposit a portion of a child’s funding from a state’s education formula into a private account that parents use to buy educational products and services for their children. Parents can buy online classes, hire a personal tutor, and pay private school tuition, to name a few possible uses. Families can save money from year to year to prepare for additional high school or even college needs.
The accounts can help make reassignment easier for military families. When asked, “Did moving between states as part of your military service add challenges to your children’s education?” 70 percent of respondents to the Military Times survey said yes. In the EdChoice survey, 39 percent of military parents that used to have school-aged children and 31 percent of current military parents report enrolling their oldest child in at least four schools.
Military families are also more than twice as likely as civilian families to say that they moved homes to be closer to their child’s school (37 percent vs. 17 percent).
With an education savings account, parents can use the funds to make a choice that works for their child. If the local district school to which a student is assigned is low-performing, the accounts will allow military parents to find an alternative.
The EdChoice survey demonstrates that military families are already making sacrifices for their children’s educations. Fifty-six percent of respondents said they have “significantly changed their routine” for the sake of their child’s education, compared to the national average of 38 percent.
To offer military families the opportunity to use education savings accounts, lawmakers could redirect some of the federal funds for K-12 children in military families (called “Impact Aid”) to students’ accounts. Today, Impact Aid provides federal funds to districts to help educate 150,000 students living on- and off-base, along with tens of thousands of other military-connected students throughout the country.
Even if the accounts are made available to service members’ families, no family would be forced to use an account. The local public and private school options, along with homeschooling, would still be available to them without an account. And no public schools have closed due to savings account usage in states with account laws—generally, one percent or less of a state’s public school enrollment has opted to use an account since 2011 (in Arizona, Florida, Tennessee, and Mississippi).
But for military parents that need access to something other than their assigned district school, the accounts can be a life-changing opportunity. “Military parents are going above and beyond the national average when it comes to supporting their children’s K-12 educational experiences,” write the EdChoice survey authors, adding that there is “an opportunity to give real schooling power to military families, who have already sacrificed so much for their country.”
Jonathan Butcher (M.A. in economics, University of Arkansas) is a senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation and a senior fellow at the Goldwater Institute. His work has appeared in EducationNext, the Georgetown Journal of Law and Public Policy, The Wall Street Journal, Education Week, National Review Online, and several other newspapers across the country.
Jonathan Butcher (M.A. in economics, University of Arkansas) serves as education director for the Goldwater Institute. He has researched and testified on education policy and school choice programs around the U.S. He is a member of the Arizona Department of Education’s Steering Committee for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, the nation’s first education savings account program. Prior to joining Goldwater, Jonathan was the Director of Accountability for the South Carolina Public Charter School District, South Carolina’s only statewide charter school authorizer.