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Democrats Send Letter Opposing Military Family School Funding Measure

 (U.S. Navy/Jacob G. Sisco)
(U.S. Navy/Jacob G. Sisco)

A group of over 40 Democrat lawmakers have sent a letter to a pair of House committee chairmen opposing a proposal that would give troops cash for alternative schooling, but gut Pentagon subsidies for public schools.

The plan would give military families up to $4,500 per child depending on where they live. The money would be placed in an Education Savings Account (ESA). Supporters see the measure as giving military families greater school choice, and some estimates say over 120,000 military children would be eligible.

But funding for it would come out of a current program known as Impact Aid, which gives local school districts money based on enrollment of military kids. Paying for the ESAs would trigger an Impact Aid reduction.

And that's what the lawmakers who penned the April 24 letter, as well as multiple military family lobbying groups, such as the National Military Family Association (NMFA), say is the real problem with the proposal. School choice in and of itself isn't bad -- but punishing school districts and the other students who will continue to use them but cutting their funding is, they say.

"We write to express our deep concern with any dilution of funding from the Impact Aid program," the lawmakers wrote. "It is unfathomable that now ... you and your colleagues would be open to a major redistribution of Impact Aid dollars, a redistribution that would strip funding from 1,200 school districts and 10 million students."

The plan is supported by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who sees it as expanding school options for families who otherwise can't afford private school.

"We know that they're so mobile generally that it is difficult for those kids, moving from base to base to base, or from city to city to city, to have continuity in their education. An education savings account would afford them a much different dynamic and approach to be able to get their education in the way that best works for them," DeVos said at a conference in February.

The House bill was introduced by Rep. Jim Banks, a Republican from Indiana. It also has a companion bill in the Senate.

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