A GI Bill for Children of Military Families: Transforming Impact Aid into Education Savings Accounts
by Lindsey Burke and Anne Ryland, Heritage Foundation, June 2, 2017
A strong national defense depends on a well-supported military. Members of the armed services and their families are the most important resource the U.S. has in terms of national defense. Individuals who have served deserve to be well-served through education opportunities for themselves and their children that enable the pursuit of life and career goals.
All military members volunteer to deploy into harm’s way. For a service member preparing for deployment or already deployed far from home, the education options available to their children can be a point of great concern. The schooling options available to military-connected children can play a role in whether a family accepts an assignment, even factoring into decisions to leave military service altogether.1
Yet as important as education is to military parents, more than half of all active-duty military families live in states with no school choice options at all.
In order to ensure that those who secure our nation are able to access education options that best serve them, policymakers should empower these families with education choice options through the federal Impact Aid program, which was designed largely with military-connected children in mind. Specifically, Congress should:
- Direct the federal Impact Aid program, which provides additional funding to districts with a military population, to military-connected children themselves, instead of to public school districts.
- Re-conceptualize 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what works for their children and ensuring that a service member’s decision to remain in the military does not hinge on outdated assignment-by-zip-code schooling policies.
- Transition Impact Aid funding into parent-controlled education savings accounts (ESAs) to provide children of active-duty military families with education choice, while ensuring the federal program serves military families so that they can serve the nation.
Lack of Existing Education Options for Military-Connected Children
A strong national defense depends on a well-supported military. Supporting the military includes making education options available to military-connected children. More than 1.3 million Americans made up the (active-duty) armed forces of the United States in 2015,2 with more than 87 percent of active-duty service members residing in the United States and the U.S. territories. The typical enlisted service member is 27 years old, with the average age for officers increasing to 34.5 years of age.3 The age of most military personnel means many have children school-aged and younger; these children are more than 1.2 million in number.
Today, lack of adequate academic achievement, combined with a lack of physical fitness and in some cases, the presence of criminal records, means that more than 70 percent of Americans age 17 to 24 cannot qualify for military service. Moreover, 20 percent of high school graduates who hope to join the Army—which, at 36 percent of the overall armed forces personnel, comprises the largest portion of active-duty military members4—cannot achieve an adequate score on the Armed Forces Qualification Test to do so. In Hawaii, Louisiana, Alabama, and South Carolina, this figure exceeds 30 percent.5
Children from military families are much more likely to serve in the military themselves. According to the 2016 Blue Star Family Military Family Lifestyle Survey, while only 0.5 percent of the general public is currently serving, 56 percent of their veteran and active-duty respondents reported multiple immediate family members who were veterans or currently serving.6 Because future recruitment depends in large part on military-connected youth, it is in the nation’s best interest to ensure that these children are adequately prepared not simply to pass a basic qualification test, but to excel during their service years afterward. The future success of our armed services depends on offering military-connected children an excellent education.
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