By Christine Cooke
Published on April 4, 2018

Originally published by The Daily Signal.

I’m a military brat, along with my five siblings. My dad was a pilot in the Air Force, and being part of a shared community while living on base made for a wonderful childhood.

But if there’s anything you learn from being in a big military family, it’s that educating your kids while being in the service can be difficult.

Frequent changes in assignments means inconsistencies in education and an ever-present possibility of being sent to areas with low-performing schools. Military families know they will face unique challenges while serving our country, but providing their kids with a good education shouldn’t be one of them.

In March, Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., introduced the Education Savings Accounts for Military Families Act of 2018, a bill that attempts to address this issue.

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In short, the bill would allow military families to access an education savings account—funded with federal Impact Aid dollars—to purchase education products like private school tuition, online learning programs, tutoring, extracurricular activities at public schools, textbooks, curricula, educational software, and other expenses.

This would enable parents to create the type of education they want for their kids—one that meets students where they are academically, allows them to be safe, and is consistent enough to help students progress even amid frequent moves.

Frequent moves are hard on military families, and particularly children and their education. A survey conducted by the Military Times found that 35 percentof respondents would consider leaving the military due to a lack of educational choices.

Frequent moves are also associated with poorer educational outcomes. U.S. News and World Report found that teens who have not moved are twice as likely to have earned a diploma by early adulthood as those who have moved. Adolescents who move once have a 62 percent likelihood of completing high school, and that likelihood drops to 60 percent for those who move more than once.

My family was blessed to encounter many excellent schools and competent teachers, both on and off base, but the experience was still far from perfect. My sweet mother, who was a diligent shepherd of her children’s education, said that the frequent moves left some holes and gaps in education, calling the inconsistencies “kind of a mess.”

During a time when our country is facing a military readiness crisis, we need fewer reasons for people to avoid serving our country.

Military families know that a new assignment means a new school with new semester timelines, grading philosophies, approaches to basic subjects, course progression, and graduation requirements.

It means missing deadlines for participation in certain extracurricular activities—whether it’s tryouts for soccer or new age limits for band.

And it means a roll of the dice as to whether you’ll be assigned to an area near a good school or a school that’s notorious for low performance and/or a dangerous environment—all of which were considerations for my family at one point or another.

For two of my siblings with learning disabilities like dyslexia, it also meant a delay in making strides in overcoming those challenges—starting and restarting therapies or remedial courses.

My sister put it this way: “If I’m being honest, my experience in school was pretty terrible. It was difficult to move all the time because no program was ever the same.” Throughout her K-12 school years, she went to more than seven different schools.

An education savings account would allow students to access an online course in a particular subject and make consistent progress no matter where their family is transferred. It would enable parents to pay for tuition at a private school if they are assigned to an area in a low-performing district. And, it would give families the funds to cover the costs of homeschooling in order to make up for an especially fragmented education.

These options would present a critical alternative for families struggling to piece together their children’s education while moving so much.

But most American teens don’t move this much. Only 5.6 percent of teens move once, and only 2.2 percent move twice. That leaves about 92 percent of teens who stay put and receive consistent schooling. So the remedy is not top-down uniformity across states (think of the Common Core debacle).

What we need are publicly funded options for those families most likely to experience the unique challenges of moving. Those options are most powerful when we put money into the hands of parents who know their children’s academic needs the best, no matter where they live.

This use of federal funds in education is appropriate  because the federal government has authority over national security—i.e. the military.

Our military families shouldn’t have to choose between serving our country and getting their kids a great education. Policies like the Education Savings Account for Military Families Act of 2018 may allow our servicemen and women to do both.

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Christine is director of Sutherland Institute’s Center for Educational Progress. She is a member of the Utah State Bar, with a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University and a law degree from Arizona State University. She worked as an English teacher at a public school and a residential treatment center. She also worked with the Arizona Office of the Governor, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, Goldwater Institute, and The Heritage Foundation.

Christine is regularly featured in national, local and regional publications and radio shows. Christine is an appointed member of the state Competency Based Learning Review Committee. She also serves on the Greater Avenues Community Council. She loves music and making cookies.

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