It's time to empower military families with education freedom
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The military life is often marked by periods of uncertainty, so it’s no surprise that seven out of 10 current school parents in the military community support school choice policies like Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), vouchers, and charter schools. 

Like most moms, my kids keep my life filled to the margins, from sports practices to birthday parties. Our days are like a record on repeat: feed the kids, carpool the kids, homework the kids, crash into bed, repeat.

But my husband’s decision to join the Army over 20 years ago meant our family life would include many moves, deployments, and a bit of uncertainty. When he enlisted, our entire family became members of the extended military community. This guaranteed that, in some ways, our lives marched to the beat of a different drum and our cadence looked quite different than the average family. Because of this unique--and often stressful--environment in which military children grow up and are educated, Congress must empower our service members and their children with real education freedom.

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A recent survey of military families by EdChoice, a research organization devoted to expanding education freedom, found that, “Active-duty military households overwhelmingly support choice-driven education policies and programs.” These types of choices lend to a level of autonomous decision-making that is often lacking in other aspects of the military lifestyle.

All parents want to ensure their child is able to receive the best education possible. This is no different for military families. To help military families meet this need, while simultaneously bolstering retention efforts, Sens. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseSenate approves stopgap bill to prevent shutdown Trump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition Trump has officially appointed one in four circuit court judges MORE (R-Neb.), Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonHillicon Valley: Senators ask Trump to halt Huawei licenses | Warren criticizes Zuckerberg over secret dinner with Trump | Senior DHS cyber official to leave | Dems offer bill on Libra oversight Senators urge Trump to suspend Huawei license approvals Lawmakers spar over surveillance flight treaty with Russia MORE (R-Ark.), and Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottSenate approves stopgap bill to prevent shutdown Trump tax breaks for low-income neighborhoods draw scrutiny On The Money: Appeals court clears way for Congress to seek Trump financial records | Fed chief urges Congress to boost US workforce | Federal deficit hits 4 billion in one month | China talks hit snag over agricultural purchases MORE (R-S.C.) recently introduced the Education Savings Account for Military Families Act of 2019. This bill, and a companion bill in the House from Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), would allow military families to exercise autonomy over their child’s education. In practice, this means that regardless of where a family is stationed, even if it’s in an area with underperforming schools, they will be given a measure of decision-making power to a degree previously unavailable. The parent can use the ESA for private school tuition, enrollment in an online school, curriculum for homeschooling, and a number of other learning options. 

Like many service members and their families, we have wrestled with how to ensure our children receive a great education while living such a transient life. Because the typical military child moves three times more than their civilian peers, a number of parents place significant weight on stressors like frequent moves and deployments when deciding whether or not to reenlist. Add the stress that comes with education decisions, including school safety, peer acceptance, curricula, and accommodations of special needs, and the weight feels even more burdensome.

And as the needs of our military have changed, recruiting and retention incentives have had to adapt. The GI Bill continues to be a huge draw for those interested in pursuing higher education. But what of the 4 out of 10 active-duty service members that have children, particularly the 55 percent of parents that have school-age children? 

Recently Lindsey Burke, one of the EdChoice study authors, noted that, “half of all military families live in states with no school choice options whatsoever.” Many of my friends and I have had to navigate the bureaucracy of local school districts or onerous homeschooling mandates in our efforts to help our children receive the education they deserve. It can be a tedious and drawn-out process that only adds to the challenges that come with big moves.

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With each new move, these parents are asking questions like, “Will this new state’s academic requirements mean that my child needs to be placed in remedial classes?” “Will the teachers understand the challenges faced by kids like mine?” And, “Is this an environment in which I feel my child will be safe?” Because more than half of service members with children have considered leaving the military this past year, it would be wise to look for ways to empower them to stay in service, while at the same time minimizing this stressor.

Service members often have very little say over where they’ll be stationed; their children have even less of a voice in such a significant life event. By giving military children and their parents education options, like the Education Savings Account for Military Families Act of 2019, we’re affirming our belief that educational freedom is a value that those who fight for our freedom should be allowed to exercise.

Brooke Medina is the wife of a retired Army veteran, mother of four, and director of communications at Civitas Institute, a North Carolina based think tank.