Despite overwhelming opposition, some members of Congress are trying to sneak a federally funded voucher program into a must-pass defense spending bill.
Two amendments were proposed yesterday to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would divert critical federal funding from public schools that serve military families and funnel it to unaccountable private and religious schools.
The first voucher amendment was proposed by U.S. Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.). The amendment mirrors the language of standalone legislation Banks introduced in the House and U.S. Sens. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) introduced in the Senate. The legislation was inspired by the Heritage Foundation and supported by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
Known as the “Education Savings Accounts for Military Families Act,” the proposal would divert federal funding from the Impact Aid program to create Education Savings Accounts – a type of private school voucher – for students with active duty military parents residing on military bases.
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 and other children in these communities. Diverting Impact Aid dollars to private school vouchers would be especially detrimental.
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 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, sent a letter to Congress in opposition to this voucher proposal.
Yesterday, a source inside the Trump Administration said they would not support this proposal.
Another amendment was filed by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) that would create private school vouchers for military students with disabilities. He proposed an almost identical amendment in 2011 to the NDAA that was voted down at that time. Although this amendment does not use Impact Aid to fund the voucher program, it could reduce Impact Aid and undermine the public schools serving students with disabilities.
Americans United and the National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE), which AU co-chairs, oppose any form of private school voucher for military students for a multitude of reasons: Vouchers violate the principle 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.
A large number of Americans United supporters already have added their voices to the groundswell of opposition to creating a federally funded private school voucher scheme as part of the NDAA, but we need to make sure our objections are heard now: Please tell your representative in Congress that military families deserve fully funded public schools, not harmful voucher schemes.
Both the Banks and Hunter amendments will be considered by the House Rules Committee on Monday before the NDAA heads to the House floor for debate and a vote.
AU and NCPE have written to Congress to voice our opposition to creating a private school voucher plan for military students. Please join us by contacting your member of Congress now!
For more information, visit NCPE’s webpage on vouchers for military students.