Commentary: Military Families Overwhelmingly Support School Choice, Survey Finds

Published August 27, 2019

Active-duty military service members and their spouses overwhelmingly support school choice options such as education savings accounts (ESA), a recent survey found.

Seventy-two percent of respondents favored ESAs. Only 34 percent said they would prefer to send their children to a traditional government school.

In an ESA program, state education funds allocated for a child are placed in a parent-controlled savings account. The ESA can be used to pay for tuition and fees at private and parochial schools, textbooks and curriculum materials, online courses, tutoring services, educational therapies, computer hardware, and transportation costs.

ESAs can also be used to cover fees for national standardized achievement tests, such as the SAT or ACT, as well as tuition, fees, and textbooks at postsecondary institutions.

The survey of 1,295 active-duty service members and their spouses, released on June 25 by the nonprofit research group EdChoice, asked military families for their opinions of the education system and how it affects their decision on whether to continue serving in the armed forces.

Safety Concerns

A primary reason these families are so interested in school choice is safety concerns, the study found. One out of five respondents listed the safety of their children as the highest priority for them in picking a school.

This is not an unreasonable concern. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were an estimated 827,000 incidents of theft and nonfatal violent victimization on school property, based on 2017 National Crime Victimization Surveys, amounting to 33 incidents for every 1,000 students.

“Violent victimization” includes simple assault, aggravated assault, robbery, sexual assault, and rape. A little more than one in five students ages 12 to 18 years reported being bullied at school in 2017, and 69 percent of those students reported being bullied multiple days of the school year. Another 15 percent reported being electronically bullied in 2017.”

‘Real Challenges’

Military parents go above and beyond when it comes to supporting the education of their children, the report says.

“In certain ways, this is especially true when compared to the national average,” states the survey. “Active-duty military parents are much more likely to say they have taken out a new loan or moved closer to school to support their child’s education.

“Military parents also are more likely to say they have paid for tutoring, before/after care services, or school transportation,” the report states. “Military families are making big sacrifices and going to great lengths to give their kids a quality education. These activities point to real challenges for families in terms of time and resources, and federal reform could amplify those positive supports even further.”

Affecting Enlistment Decisions

The best way to make life easier for these families is to provide them with easy access to ESAs, which would allow them to send their children to the school that best suits the child’s and family’s education needs.

Military families are making choices about whether to accept a particular duty station or depart the Armed Forces based in part on the quality of surrounding schools,” a 2017 survey of Military Times readers states. “The men and women who wear the uniform are at risk of voting with their feet if the education of their children suffers because of their choice to serve the nation.

“Elected officials at the state and federal levels must focus on providing the nearly one million military-connected children with high education standards that are consistent from school district to school district and state to state, and that properly prepare a child for career or college.”

Child Safety Account Alternative

If a full ESA program for all military families is not an option, a Child Safety Account (CSA) program should be made available to military parents who have safety concerns for their children in school. CSAs are a type of ESA program for parents who believe, for whatever reason, their child is unsafe at school.

A CSA would empower parents to transfer their children immediately to a safe school of their choice within or beyond their local public-school district, including public district, charter, and virtual schools as well as private and parochial schools. CSA funds could also be used to pay for homeschooling expenses.

Students at private schools are less likely than their public-school peers to experience problems such as alcohol abuse, bullying, drug use, fighting, gang activity, racial tension, theft, vandalism, and weapon-based threats. There is also a strong causal link suggesting private school choice programs such as ESAs improve the mental health of participating students.

‘Greater Access to Options’

“Military families have already sacrificed so much for their country and … for the education and well-being of their children,” the authors of the 2017 edition of the EdChoice survey note.

“Our survey findings indicate policy influencers and policymakers have a real opportunity to address military families’ preferences for personalized student learning and greater access to options in K–12 education,” the 2017 study states.

The authors are correct. There is no time like the present to help ease the burdens of these courageous men and women.

ESAs, CSAs, school vouchers, and tax-credit scholarships should be easily available to these families. For our servicemen and veterans, it is the least we can do.

Timothy Benson ([email protected]) is a policy analyst at The Heartland Institute.

Internet Info:

Paul DiPerna, Lindsey Burke, and Drew Catt, Surveying the Military: What America’s Servicemembers, Veterans, and Their Spouses Think about K–12 Education and the Profession, EdChoice, June 25, 2019:

“Educating Military-Connected Students: What Does It Mean for Military Readiness?” survey of Military Times readers, Collaborative for Student Success, January 25, 2017: