Today, U.S. Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) introduced the “Educations Savings Accounts for Military Families Act.” This Heritage Foundation-backed bill would create education savings accounts (ESAs) – otherwise known as private school vouchers – for military-connected students.

The very constituents that supporters of this bill claim will benefit from the ESA, however, actually oppose the bill. The National Military Family Association (NMFA), the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools (NAFIS) and the Military Officers Association of America have all voiced opposition to this proposal. Americans United, along with the National Coalition for Public Education that AU co-chairs, also strongly opposes this bill.

Our public dollars should fund the public schools that serve the majority of our students, including our military-connected students. Taxpayer money should not be funneled to private, religious schools.

Vouchers have been shown time and again to be harmful policy: They strip students of civil rights protections, can lead to decreases in students’ academic achievement and fail to provide students with better educational opportunities or resources, especially students with disabilities. Moreover, vouchers and ESAs violate religious liberty by primarily funding religious schools. Parents certainly may choose such an education for their children, but no taxpayer should be required to pay for another’s religious education.

Vouchers are particularly troubling when targeted at military-connected students. As explained by NAFIS and NMFA, “The proposal is a bad deal for military families – and a disaster for local public school districts charged with educating our nation’s children.”

Specifically, this bill would drain money from the Impact Aid program to fund the voucher plan. Impact Aid provides funding to school districts that have lost local tax revenue (which traditionally funds public schools) due to the presence of federal tax-exempt land, such as military installations, Native American reservations or national parks. Diverting Impact Aid dollars to private school vouchers would be extremely detrimental for the school districts that rely on this funding to provide an education to military-connected students – especially since these schools must offer extra services for these children, who often face a host of issues such as frequently having to move or having a parent who is deployed.

That is why NMFA suggests that “instead of undermining public school systems through ESAs, perhaps we should be fully funding Federal Impact Aid.”

Our public dollars should fund the public schools that serve the majority of our students, including our military-connected students. Taxpayer money should not be funneled to private, religious schools.

This bill is also especially concerning because it has unusually lax accountability standards. Six states currently have ESA programs. In states like Arizona, they have been found to be riddled with accountability and oversight problems. Yet the federal program created in Banks’ bill would be even more lax on accountability.

The bill provides relatively no accountability or oversight mechanisms. For families wishing to participate, it requires only that parents state that they will use the funds to “provide the child with instruction in, at minimum, the fields of reading, language, mathematics, science, and social studies.” And the funds can be used for a wide variety of programs, including for an unaccredited private school or for homeschooling expenses.

The bill also explicitly prohibits the federal or state government from exercising any oversight over the program. Basically, this bill sends the message that federal dollars should be given to families and then the government should back off and have no say over how those taxpayer dollars are actually spent.

It is no surprise that voucher advocates are pushing for legislation like Banks’ bill, especially given the current administration’s continued efforts to promote private school vouchers at the federal level. What is particularly troubling about this bill, however, is that these voucher proponents are actively working against the vocal opposition of the groups representing military families and students to achieve this end.

AU will be following this bill closely. For more of the latest information on how we’re fight back against federal voucher programs, check out NoVouchers.org.