Federal plan to create “voucher-like” program for military-connected students draws criticism

A controversial proposal before Congress that would redirect federal Impact Aid funding away from public school districts and toward education savings accounts (ESAs) for students in military families is drawing criticism from the very families it is intended to benefit.

H.R. 5199, the Education Savings Accounts for Military Families Act, would re-purpose federal Impact Aid funding into a voucher-like program that would create ESAs military families could use to cover various education expenses – including private school tuition and private tutoring.   

The core purpose of Impact Aid is to replace the local revenue lost when a school district includes nontaxable (i.e., property tax exempt) federal properties within its boundaries, including military installations and Native American reservation lands. Because school age children live within these tax-exempt areas, these school districts face added costs but no way to offset these costs with local tax revenues.

At least 23 Wisconsin school districts receive Impact Aid.  They include Ashland, Bayfield, Black River Falls, Bowler, Crandon, Cumberland, Florence, Gresham, Hayward, Lac du Flambeau, Lakeland UHS, Laona, Menomonie Indian, Seymour, Shawano, Siren, Sparta, Tomah, Unity, Wabeno, Webster, West De Pere and Winter.

According to the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools (NAFIS), H.R. 5199 could redirect as much as $450 million from the Impact Aid program.  NAFIS, the National Military Family Association (NMFA), the Military Officers Association of America, and the Military Coalition, a consortium of groups representing military veterans and branches of the armed forces, have all voiced opposition to H.R. 5199.

As explained by NAFIS and NMFA, “The proposal is a bad deal for military families – and a disaster for local public school districts charged with educating our nation’s children.”

In a recent letter to lawmakers, the Military Coalition said converting Impact Aid into funding for education savings accounts “would be financially devastating for many school districts, critically compromising the quality of the education they could provide to military children and their civilian classmates.”

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) and sixty other organizations sent this letter to Congress voicing opposition against this proposal.  The NSBA asks that affected school board members contact their members of Congress and urge their strong opposition to this legislation that would redirect federal Impact Aid funding away from public school districts and students.  Talking points from NAFIS are available here.

H.R. 5199 is currently in the House Armed Services Committee, of which  U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Green Bay, pictured), who represents Wisconsin’s 8th Congressional District, is a member.