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OPINION

Give military kids options to enhance learning

By SEN. BEN SASSE | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: March 8, 2019

Men and women in uniform sacrifice for our country, but they shouldn’t have to sacrifice the quality of their kids’ education. That’s why I’m introducing the Education Saving Accounts for Military Families Act of 2019.

We live in a dangerous world. Whether we’re facing the threats of China’s growing hostility, Russia’s resurgent imperialism, or jihadi extremism, we must defend our interests across the globe.

America has to be ready to lead. We need a military at the top of its game. To have that, we need to ensure our military is recruiting and retaining the best and brightest our country has to offer.

We have recruitment challenges. Unfortunately, our armed services simply do not have the manpower to achieve full readiness. In 2018, the U.S. Army fell thousands of recruits short of its goals. In recent years, the Air Force and Navy both faced similar recruiting challenges.

Not only are we struggling to recruit America’s finest but we’re also struggling to keep them in the service. Life in the military is hard. These families are used to long periods apart and frequent moves across the country. It’s no wonder, then, that our recruitment problems are compounded by retention issues. These families are sacrificing for our freedom, and we ought to look out for them.

Take, for instance, military families assigned to a base with limited public school options nearby. As servicemembers, moms and dads may not have very much flexibility when it comes to their children’s educational experiences. That means parents may have to limit their kids’ possibilities, or they may have to split up the family while serving.

According to a Military Times poll, over a third of military families say their unhappiness with their children’s education contributed to their decision to stay in or leave the military. That’s unacceptable. Not only does it reduce our hugely important retention rates, it also violates the debt of honor we owe members of the military for their service.

We should be making it easier for our troops to access the best educational opportunities for their children, not harder. We owe it to these military families to help them provide the best for their kids. That’s why I’m proposing — along with Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Tim Scott, R-S.C. — the creation of education savings accounts (ESAs) for children of military families.

Under our plan, military families who want to pursue alternative educational opportunities for their children can apply for accounts and receive $6,000 every year for each eligible child. These accounts could be used for a number of services, including tuition at a private school, online learning programs and special educational services and therapy, to name a few. These funds would enable military parents to tailor each child’s educational experience to their specific needs.

Setting up ESAs for military families is a common-sense solution to one of the causes for slipping recruitment and retention rates. Giving families more options when it comes to schooling will ensure that military families are given the care and empowerment they deserve.

Making the decision to serve our country in uniform shouldn’t mean compromising your child’s future. The Education Savings Accounts for Military Families Act is a first step to solving this crucial problem.

Like every parent, these servicemembers want the best for their families. They do right by us, so let’s help them do right by their kids.

Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, is a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the author of the Education Savings Accounts for Military Families Act of 2019.

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