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Education Funding

A ‘GI Bill’ Using School Choice? Conservative Group’s Proposal Raises Eyebrows

By Andrew Ujifusa — June 05, 2017 2 min read
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You can find a new push for school choice in three different parts of President Donald Trump’s proposed budget. But one advocate has found a federal program that she thinks is ripe for such a push—and it may not be one you’ve heard of.

“A GI Bill for Children of Military Families: Transforming Impact Aid into Education Savings Accounts” is a proposal from Lindsey Burke and Anne Ryland at the Heritage Foundation to convert the $1.3 billion Impact Aid program in the federal budget into education savings accounts for children from military families, as well as children from Native American tribal lands. The two staffers at Heritage, a conservative think tank that favors K-12 choice and a smaller U.S. Department of Education, believe it’s an appropriate step that not only promotes educational freedom, but helps the overall environment for the armed forces.

Impact Aid is a formula program that provides money for children at “federally connected” schools, which in many cases mean those two groups of students. It’s essentially a payment to schools for land that’s owned by the federal government that’s not subject to local tax collection. It’s an unusual system for the U.S. Department of Education, in that the money goes directly from Washington to local school districts. Education savings accounts differ from vouchers and other forms of school choice, in that states move per-pupil funding amounts directly into accounts that parents can then spend on pre-approved educational expenses.

We noted that Burke raised this idea at an Education Writers Association panel last week, before the report came out:

Much of the report focuses on how education savings accounts for 1.2 million children from military families would be particularly helpful for those living in states without a school choice program already in place. And the report notes that a Military Times survey found that 35 percent of respondents said “dissatisfaction with their child’s education was a ‘significant factor’ in their decision to remain in or leave military service.”

“Transitioning Impact Aid funding into parent-controlled education savings accounts would provide children of active-duty military families with education choice, while ensuring the federal program serves military families as well as they serve the nation,” Burke and Ryland wrote.

The report notes that 80 percent of students from military-connected families attend traditional public schools, often those very close to military bases, while 4 percent attend Department of Defense schools.

However, the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools is having none of this. NAFIS Executive Director Hillary Goldman said in a statement that, “Changing Impact Aid into an ESA would burden local taxpayers with higher taxes and require students to go without.” Turning it into a school choice program does nothing to address the issue of local taxes not collected due to federal impacts, she said.

The Trump administration budget already would create a new $1 billion public school choice program under Title I, increase grants for charter schools to $500 million, and provide $250 million to fund and research the impacts of private school vouchers. Trump’s spending blueprint would cut Impact Aid spending by a relatively small amount, similar to President Barack Obama’s last budget proposal.

Read the full report from Heritage below: