Report: Expand G.I. Bill to Veterans’ K-12 Children

Published May 25, 2012

States could save more than $92 million annually and expand education options by letting veterans direct their education benefits to their children using Military Education Savings Accounts, according to a new report from the Independent Women’s Forum.

In 1944, Congress passed what is today known as the Montgomery G.I. Bill. By putting a college education within the financial reach of veterans, the G.I. Bill is credited with growing the American middle class and ushering in one of the longest economic expansions in history.  Recent changes to it allow veterans to transfer their education benefits to their college-age children, but not their school-age children who need better options. 

“Given such success, it’s time to expand the G.I. Bill concept to K-12 students,” said Vicki Alger, IWF senior fellow and report author of “Gratitude for Our Armed Forces Should Not Stop at the Schoolhouse Door: Providing Educational Choice through Military Education Savings Accounts.”

Since 2008, Congress has voted down several scholarship plans to offer military dependents better education options.

Military Schoolchildren Need Options
More than 1 million school-age children in the U.S. have parents serving in the military. Most of them attend local public schools, yet more than half the country’s public schools where at least 5 percent of students have a parent in the military are not meeting state academic standards.

Children from military families change schools frequently and have higher disability rates than their civilian peers, further undermining their chances of school success.

Military K-12 education savings accounts would expand education options without adding costs to national and state budgets because they would simply let veterans and service members direct existing or unused education benefits into tax-free savings accounts for their school-age children.

“Parents know that having more options leads to better outcomes.  That’s why across the country, policymakers are creating programs that give parents more control over where and how their children are educated,” said Carrie Lukas, IWF’s managing director. “Surely our servicemen and women deserve the same kind of freedom and flexibility.”

Choice Models Abound
Ample models already exist for how military ESAs could work. Coverdell ESAs allow individuals to contribute up to $2,000 annually for their children’s K-12 education, including private school tuition, room and board, tutoring, special education services, uniforms, and educational technology. As with Coverdells, qualified education expenditures from military ESAs would be tax free. Annual contributions should be worth up to the current per-pupil funding military dependents’ assigned public schools would receive for them.

Virtually every state offers higher education benefits to National Guard members. In some states, surviving dependents can receive those benefits. States also offer 529 college savings plans, and qualified withdrawals are not subject to federal taxes.  Some states also offer income tax deductions or tax credits for 529 contributions.  

State lawmakers could simply amend these existing programs to include military ESAs for K-12 education expenditures, the report says. Arizona did so in 2011 when it became the first state to enact a K-12 ESA, which was recently expanded to include military families.

Benefits to States, Nation
Ensuring the availability of high-quality education options is critical to military recruitment and retention, with top officials reporting that military parents with school-age children are reluctant to accept assignments to areas with poorly performing schools.

Because most annual charter, private, virtual, and home schooling costs are significantly less than the $12,000 national public-school per-pupil average, states would likely realize a significant savings.

The report found that if just 1 percent of military children attended private schools instead of public district schools using military ESAs, states would realize a combined annual savings of more than $92 million.

“Most important, by allowing federal and state Military ESAs,” said Alger, “policymakers can ensure that the Americans who have sacrificed so much for their country do not have to sacrifice when it comes to providing a quality education for their children.”

Learn more:
“Honor Veterans by Giving Their Children Better Education Options,” Vicki Alger,

Image by Sgt. Mary S. Katzenberger.