- New legislation approved by the General Assembly provides special needs military families with more educational options for their children.
- Dissatisfaction with their children’s academic options influences over one-third of our service members’ decisions to stay in the military.
- Parental choice in education saves the government money and gives military families a greater voice in their child’s education.
Members of our United States military are afforded very little input when it comes to decisions that significantly impact their lives and the lives of their family members. Decisions such as where to live, when to move, where to seek medical care, and even when to take vacation, are made for you. So wouldn’t it be great if the government allowed military families the opportunity to choose the education they feel best suits their child’s unique needs?
When a man or woman takes the Enlistment Oath, they make a commitment to go wherever they are sent and to do whatever they are commanded (within Uniform Code of Military Justice) for the sake of our nation’s security. This praiseworthy allegiance however, does not come without costs, both to the service member and his or her spouse and children.
As the wife of an active-duty soldier and the daughter of a thirty-year Army veteran, my children and I have experienced first-hand the secondary effects of a serviceman’s Enlistment Oath. And I wouldn’t change it for the world. Yet, in order for our government to maintain these commitments in the long-term it is imperative that the unique education challenges of military families be taken into consideration.
Heritage Foundation policy analysts Leslie Burke and Anne Ryland have extensively researched the challenges of meeting the educational needs of military families. In a 2017 report they cited a Military Times survey that found “35 percent of respondents said that dissatisfaction with their child’s education was a ‘significant factor’ in their decision to remain in or leave military service.” With 43 percent of active-duty service members parenting school-aged children, it is clear that this is one issue capable of impacting combat readiness.
Access to quality education options doesn’t need to be a make or break issue for service members, and state legislators can play an integral role in ensuring that it isn’t. The North Carolina General Assembly has already taken encouraging steps toward making school choice for military-connected children a reality.
On the whole, military families relocate approximately ten times more often than civilian families, according to CNN. Education research suggests that student mobility can significantly impact academic achievement. This location fluidity is one of the many reasons active-duty families in North Carolina stand to benefit from provisions in the 2017-2019 state budget to allow special needs children whose parents or legal guardians are active duty military personnel to be eligible for up to $9,000 to be deposited into an Education Savings Account (ESA). An ESA is an account established to help families pay for such items as private school tuition, textbooks, tutoring and other educational expenses.
According to the Heritage Foundation report, the cost of administering Department of Defense schools is just over $26,000 per student. Yes, you read that right, $26,000! It’s well above the North Carolina state average of $8,887 per pupil, and even eclipses New York’s average expenditure of $20,000 per pupil. The expenses associated with keeping these DoD schools afloat are enormous. Justification for sustaining this excessive spending behavior falls flat when compared with the opportunity to provide military families with common-sense education options for their children.
By contrast, $9,000 per student will generate significant savings, while empowering families with the opportunity to choose the best educational option for their child.
It is my hope that North Carolina continues to lead the way in offering military families real choices. The successes that can spring from these state-funded ESAs will provide a real example of cost-savings, while at the same time empowering those who serve us to access the best education for their children. These days there is a lot of talk about helping military families, but actions will always speak louder than words, and the General Assembly’s budget actions give many military families cause for hope.
Updated on 12/4/2017