This isn’t just important to those children who have better education options. It’s important to our nation’s defense. Top military officials report that military parents with school-age children are reluctant to accept assignments to areas with poorly performing schools. Ensuring that military personnel will have high-quality education options will help with military recruitment and retention efforts.
Since 2008, Congress has considered but failed to enact several scholarship programs for military dependents. This is a topic they should reconsider immediately. Unlike other proposals, Military ESAs would be more fiscally—and therefore politically—viable, because they require no additional appropriations. But state lawmakers don’t need to wait for Congress to act.
Virtually every state offers higher education benefits to National Guard members. In some states, those benefits can even be transferred to surviving dependents. States also have their own 529 college savings plans, and qualified withdrawals are not subject to federal taxes. Additionally, some states offer income tax deductions or tax credits for 529 contributions. State lawmakers should simply amend their existing programs so they can serve as Military ESAs for K-12 education expenditures as well. Arizona did so last year, when it became the first state to enact a K-12 ESA program.
Such benefits would be powerful recruitment tools and help nurture home-grown talent, which contributes to states’ economic growth without burdening their budgets. In fact, because most annual private, charter, virtual, and home schooling costs are significantly less than the $12,000 national public-school per-pupil average, states would likely realize significant savings. In fact, if just 1 percent of military children attended private schools instead of public district schools using Military ESAs, states would realize a combined annual savings of more than $92 million.
Most important, by allowing federal and state Military ESAs, policymakers can ensure that the Americans who have sacrificed so much for their country do not have to sacrifice when it comes to providing a quality education for their children.