Congress began debating legislation last week to reauthorize its must-pass annual defense bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The NDAA is often used as a vehicle to sneak in policies that endanger religious freedom, and this year we’re particularly concerned that members of Congress will use it to pass a new private school voucher program.
Inspired by the Heritage Foundation and emboldened by support from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, U.S. Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) in the House and U.S. Sens. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) have introduced legislation to create vouchers for military-connected students. This legislation, known as the “Education Savings Accounts for Military Families Act,” would use federal funding from the Impact Aid program to create Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) – a type of private school voucher – for students with active duty military parents residing on military bases. Since the bill is unlikely to pass on its own, supporters are reportedly trying to add the program to the NDAA.
Impact Aid is a source of funding for school districts that have lost local tax revenue due to the presence of federal tax-exempt land, such as military installations, Native American reservations or national parks. School districts rely on this funding to provide education to military-connected students. Diverting Impact Aid dollars to private school vouchers would be especially detrimental.
We oppose any form of private school voucher for military students for a multitude of reasons: Vouchers violate principles of religious freedom, fail to provide better educational opportunities for students and undermine our public education system. Because private voucher schools can refuse to admit students for many reasons, including a student’s religion, LGBTQ status or disability, they allow for discrimination with our taxpayer dollars and don’t give a real choice to parents or students. Our public dollars should fund public schools, which educate 90 percent of students, rather than supporting vouchers for only a select few students.
Other groups representing military students and their families, including the National Military Family Association, Military Officers Association of America, Military Child Education Coalition and the National Association for Federally Impacted Schools, have also opposed using Impact Aid to fund private school vouchers for military students. In addition, The Military Coalition, a consortium of uniformed services and veterans associations representing more than 5.5 million current and former service members and their families and survivors, sent a letter to Congress last month in opposition to this voucher proposal. It is clear that the groups representing the students, families and schools that would be impacted by this legislation do not want it.
On May 9, the House Armed Services Committee will be debating the NDAA and accepting amendments. Now is the time to take action and tell your representative and senators to oppose using federal funds to create a private school voucher program.
For more information, visit the National Coalition for Public Education’s webpage on vouchers for military students.