Ever since news broke that President Trump issued “marching orders” for the Pentagon to plan a military parade, everyone has an opinion about whether the event is appropriate.
The White House argues the parade is evidence the president “is incredibly supportive of America’s great service members who risk their lives every day to keep our country safe.” Whether a parade would communicate this concept or make us look like North Korea misses a more fundamental point.
What does supporting the troops really mean?
If we want to honor our military and raise service members’ morale, we should be looking at ways we can make their lives substantively better—something a parade won’t provide.
A top concern for military families is the quality of their children’s educations. Our troops jump through more hoops than the rest of us for their kids. A recent survey by EdChoice found that more than 56 percent of military families “significantly changed their routine” for the sake of their children’s educations—nearly 20 percent higher than the national average. It also found that military families are twice as likely as civilians to have moved to be closer to their children’s schools.
Unfortunately, too many military kids are in poor-performing schools—and it’s a huge problem. A Military Times survey found that more than 35 percent of former servicemembers cited their dissatisfaction with their children’s educational options as a “significant factor” in their decision to leave the military. In 2016, the Pentagon enabled military families to stay longer at certain duty stations as a direct result of parent complaints about poor performing schools near their next assignments. Ensuring military families can access quality schools is an educational issue, but it also cuts to the core of crucial morale and readiness issues for our security.
Even though more than half of military families in EdChoice’s survey said K-12 education was on the wrong track, the status quo leaves them with few options. The vast majority of military-connected children attend residentially-assigned public schools, and more than half of military families live in states with no school choice programs whatsoever.
Let’s support our troops by fixing this educational imbalance by giving their families access to school choice anywhere in the country through Education Savings Accounts. These programs, known as ESAs, let families use the per-pupil funding their kids would otherwise receive in public schools for a variety of approved education expenses.
ESAs are flexible. They can be spent on private school tuition, textbooks, tutoring, software, special needs therapy, even individual public school or community college courses—and funds roll over year-to-year, discouraging waste. More than six states have already passed ESAs, and a survey from Arizona’s program, the first in the country, indicates that 71 percent of parents were “very satisfied” with it so far.
EdChoice’s military family survey found that three-quarters of active duty households supported ESAs when told about their features. We already have $1.3 billion in federal impact aid designated to support the education of military-connected children. Converting these funds into a federal ESA for military families would empower our servicemembers to provide their kids with a boutique, individualized educational experience. This would make a meaningful difference in their lives and strengthen our military at the same time.
That would do more to support the troops more than any parade can.
Tyler Koteskey (@TKoteskey76) is an education policy analyst at the Reason Foundation.
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