by Brian Washington
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UPDATE: Your advocacy has succeeded — thus far — in staving off the addition of a voucher program for military-connected students to the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act. While it may appear that support for vouchers is softening, the battle is far from won — a potential amendment to the bill could provide vouchers for students with special needs.
Whether they’re called vouchers, education savings accounts, or tuition tax credits, the impact is the same: robbing public schools of funding and resources that may already fall short of what is needed. A voucher program could also reduce Impact Aid for public schools serving large numbers of military-connected students — one of the reasons the National Military Family Association and the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) are against it.
A committee in the U.S. House of Representatives may take up a voucher scheme that could drain $450 million away from students attending public schools near federal properties, including national parks, Native American reservations, and military bases.
The Education Savings Accounts for Military Families Act, H.R. 5199, could go before the Armed Services committee in the House next week. However, do not be fooled by the legislation’s title. No matter what you call them—education savings accounts, opportunity scholarships, or tuition tax credits — they are all voucher schemes and the enemy of public schools.
Educators know voucher schemes rob our public schools of badly needed resources and use your tax dollars to pay the private school tuition of a select few. The Military Families Act targets students with parents on active military duty.
Lawmakers want to use Impact Aid to fund the bill. Impact Aid normally covers the loss of local revenues used to fund public schools when a school district is on or near nontaxable federal properties, like a military base.
If Impact Aid is used for vouchers, 1,100 school districts, primarily serving American Indian, Alaska Native, and military-connected students, could see a 39 percent reduction in these federal dollars. This would affect more than 10 million students.
Superintendent David McVicker’s district, the Central Kitsap District in Silverdale, Washington, touches a shipyard at one corner, a U.S. Pacific Fleet of submarines at another, and, on a third corner, a research weapons facility.
“More than 50 percent of the district is federally connected,” said McVicker.
In total, McVicker says Kitsap could lose between 35 to 37 percent of its $10 million in Impact Aid.
“We are fortunate enough to currently have three high schools on the U.S. News and World Report top AP schools in the nation, and a lot of that is because we can support those programs with our Impact Aid,” said McVicker.
Kitsap sees a high number of special needs students attending its schools because the military has designated it as an exceptional family member destination.
“With Impact Aid, we’re able to support those students,” said McVicker.
The Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC), comprised of several military groups, including the National Military Family Association and the Military Officers Association of America, oppose this bill because it would end up hurting the very students proponents claim they want to help.
“Our goal is to ensure that every child grows and thrives through good and challenging times in order to be college, workforce, and ultimately, life-ready,” reads the group’s letter to members of the Armed Services committee. “Staying true to our mission, the MCEC does not support the Education Savings Accounts for Military Families Act. This act, though well intended, wrongly strips away essential Impact Aid funding from local education agencies (LEA) that teach and support our military-connected children to create educational savings accounts (vouchers) that would benefit only a very small number of military families.”
Another reason to oppose vouchers—aside from the huge fact that they don’t work and harm public education—they are also the weapon of choice for Betsy DeVos, the most unqualified education secretary in the nation’s history. DeVos made vouchers a staple of her school privatization agenda. She tried to get a billion dollar, federally funded voucher program up and running, but Congress rejected much of her agenda.
Our public schools, where 9 out of 10 students attend, need your taxpayer dollars. If this nation is serious about every child’s future, we must get serious about what educators know works and invest in our public schools. Our students deserve inviting classrooms, a well-rounded curriculum, and class sizes small enough for one-on-one attention.