Research & Commentary: Military Families Overwhelmingly in Favor of Private School Choice Programs

Published November 6, 2017

A report released in October 2017 by EdChoice, titled Surveying the Military, finds military families are overwhelmingly in favor of school choice options after they have been informed of how the programs work. The survey of 1,200 active-duty personnel, veterans, and their spouses shows 72 percent are in favor of education savings accounts (ESAs), 64 percent are in favor of school vouchers, and 63 percent favor tax-credit scholarships.

Further, the survey found a majority of respondents believe K–12 education is on the wrong track, and only 34 percent said a district public school is the preferred school type for their children. Another 44 percent said they had taken on an additional job to secure their child’s K–12 education.

This is important information, because another recent survey conducted by Military Times found 35 percent of respondents said dissatisfaction with the education their children are receiving is a “significant factor” in determining whether they would reenlist. Another 40 percent reported they either already have or would decline a promotion that would require them to move to a different installation because of their satisfaction with their children’s schools at their current installation.

“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,” the Military Times survey concludes. “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.”

Knowing this, it is unsurprising so many military families have such a positive opinion of private school choice. In May 2016, EdChoice released a report in which the report’s authors examined 100 empirical studies of school choice programs. Eighteen of these studies used random assignment to measure outcomes, referred to in academia as the “gold standard.” The overwhelming majority of the available empirical evidence shows education choice offers families equal access to high-quality schools that meet their widely diverse needs and desires, and, according to the research, it does so at a lower cost. In addition, EdChoice found education choice also benefits public school students. 

Every state in the country has an active-duty military presence, and policymakers in these states should ease the burdens on their military families by providing them with the private school choice options that so many are in favor of. This is especially true of the states with a very large number of active-duty personnel. Of those states, only Florida and North Carolina have been especially proactive in providing private school choice programs. California, Hawaii, Kentucky and Texas, all top 10 states in their number of military personnel, are private school choice deserts.

“Military families are proactive in the way they support their children’s education,” write the EdChoice authors, “and direct receipt of funds—perhaps via ESAs—could extend their involvement and further personalize the education of military-connected students whose lives require immense mobility and flexibility.

“Military families have already sacrificed so much for their country and … for the education and well-being of their children,” the authors continued. “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 authors are correct. There is no time like the present to help ease the burdens of these courageous men and women. ESAs, vouchers, tax-credit scholarships – none of these programs should be off the table for legislators in 2018. For our servicemen and veterans, it is the least we can do.

The following documents provide more information about private school choice.

Surveying the Military: What America’s Servicemembers, Veterans, and Their Spouses Think About K–12 Education and the Profession
In this report, EdChoice share the results of a 2017 survey of 1,200 active-duty military servicemembers, veterans, and their spouses to help policymakers and the public better understand this important constituency’s perspective on K­–12 education, school choice policies, and the military profession.

Education Savings Accounts: The Future of School Choice Has Arrived
In this new Heartland Policy Brief, Policy Analyst Tim Benson discusses how universal ESA programs offer the most comprehensive range of educational choices to parents; describes the six ESA programs currently in operation; and reviews possible state-level constitutional challenges to ESA programs.

A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Fourth Edition)
This paper by EdChoice details how a vast body of research shows educational choice programs improve academic outcomes for students and schools, saves taxpayers money, reduces segregation in schools, and improves students’ civic values. This edition brings together a total of 100 empirical studies examining these essential questions in one comprehensive report.

2016/17 School Choice Report Card
This report card published by the American Federation for Children scores 27 active non-special-needs voucher, scholarship tax-credit, and education savings account programs against ideal standards for program quality. The report is an excellent tool policymakers and researchers can use to help improve education programs and maximize student participation. 

Competition: For the Children
This study from the Texas Public Policy Foundation claims universal school choice results in higher test scores for students remaining in traditional public schools and improved high school graduation rates.

Why Indiana Parents Choose: A Cross-Sector Survey of Parents’ Views in a Robust School Choice Environment
This survey developed by EdChoice and conducted by Hanover Research aims to measure what motivates parents from all sectors—private, public, and charter—to choose schools, as well as their awareness of school choice options, their satisfaction levels, and the goals they set for their children’s education.

The Effects of Statewide Private School Choice on College Enrollment and Graduation: Evidence from the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program
This study from Urban Institute scholars Matthew Chingos and Daniel Kuehn shows Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program boosted college enrollment for participating students by 15 percent, with students enrolled in the program for four or more years seeing a 46 percent hike.

The Fiscal Effects of School Choice Programs on Public School Districts
In the first-ever study of public school districts’ fixed costs in every state and Washington, DC, Benjamin Scafidi concludes approximately 36 percent of school district spending cannot be quickly reduced when students leave. The remaining 64 percent, or approximately $8,000 per student on average, are variable costs, changing directly with student enrollment. This means a school choice program attaching less than $8,000 to each child who leaves a public school for a private school actually leaves the district with more money to spend on each remaining child. In the long run, Scafidi notes, all local district spending is variable, meaning all funds could be attached to individual children over time without creating fiscal problems for government schools.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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