Washington Think Tank The Heritage Foundation released a proposal Friday advocating for $1.3 billion in “impact funds” to be redirected into education savings accounts (ESA’s) that military and tribal families could use in order to elect where their children receive education.
Heritage is pushing to allow 800,000 military children to use federal tax dollars for private education, according to The Washington Post.
Under the Heritage proposal, military children would receive an education savings account that families could put toward private school, tutoring or online school, which would allow families greater flexibility to choose where their children attend school.
The plan would redirect the $1.3 billion in “impact aid” funds that currently support public school districts near military bases and tribal lands.
Lindsey Burke, an education policy analyst at Heritage, argues that it is a way to support military families and “would dramatically expand the universe of private-school choice.”
Of the 800,000 school-age children of active-duty families that would be eligible for private-school choice under the program, roughly 750,000 of those children attend Department of Defense (DOD) run schools on base or local public schools off base, according to its policy brief.
Hilary Goldmann, executive director of the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, said that turning impact aid into a voucher or education savings account program “completely misses the point.” It’s a tax-fairness initiative, she said, and is meant to “serve all the children in the district — not a certain subset,” according to WaPo.
Burke however, argues the program was always meant to pay for the education of military and tribal children.
Congress created impact aid funds to compensate public schools for the cost of operating in areas with a lot of military or tribal property. Impact aid distributed to these districts thus appears to serve a subset.
Since Impact Aid is intended to offset lost property tax revenue, school districts are free to spend the money as they see fit. Most school districts use the funds to pay for teacher salaries, utilities, and transportation expenses, but tracking where the money goes and if districts spend effectively is difficult.
Because Impact Aid through the Department of Education is not fully funded, the DOD also contributes supplemental Impact Aid to help “ensure that school districts with significant numbers of military dependent students have additional funding in order to maintain certain educational standards.”
Heritage’s proposal re-conceptualizes the $1.3 billion Impact Aid program in a way that “creates school choice for military families, empowering parents with the ability to choose what works for their children”
Per its proposal, transitioning Impact Aid funding into parent-controlled education savings accounts “provide[s] children of active-duty military families with education choice, while ensuring the federal program serves military families.”
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