Americans want to honor the veterans and service members who sacrifice so much to defend our country. That’s why we have holidays like Memorial Day. Yet members of our military deserve more than speeches and parades. They deserve policies that reduce the price that they and their families have to pay for their service.
In 1944, Congress passed what is today known as the Montgomery G.I. Bill. By putting a college education within the financial reach of veterans, the G.I. Bill is credited with growing the American middle class and ushering in one of the longest economic expansions in history. Recent changes to the G.I. Bill allow veterans to transfer their education benefits to their college-age children. Unfortunately, they can’t pass them on to their elementary and secondary school children, many of whom sorely need better options.
Congress and state lawmakers should move to change this limitation so that veterans can use existing GI Bill benefits for Military Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) to send their children to schools they think are best—regardless of where they are stationed.
More than one million school-age children in America, who mostly attend public schools, have parents serving in the military. Yet over half the country’s public schools with at least a 5 percent military-child enrollment are not meeting state academic standards. Children from military families change schools far more frequently and have higher disability rates than their civilian peers, further undermining their chances of success in school.
Military ESAs would help expand education options without adding costs to national and state budgets because they would simply let veterans direct their existing or unused education benefits into tax-free savings accounts for their school-age children. Ample models already exist for how this could work.
Coverdell ESAs, for example, allow individuals to contribute up to $2,000 annually for schoolchildren’s education, including private school tuition, room and board, tutoring, special education services, uniforms, and educational technology. As with existing Coverdell ESAs, qualified education expenditures from Military ESAs would be tax free. Annual contributions could match the current per-pupil funding at the public school the service member’s child would otherwise have to attend. Military ESA funds could pay for transportation, tuition, associated virtual or home school costs, as well as tutoring, books, supplies, and fees for special educational services. Any remaining funds could be used toward children’s postsecondary education or training.