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H.R. 5199 (115th): Education Savings Accounts for Military Families Act of 2018

Should taxpayer money be used to pay for children of military members to afford private religious school tuition?

What the bill does

The Education Savings Accounts for Military Families Act [H.R. 5199 + S. 2517] would create a new program that would allow taxpayer funds to be used for private religious schools.

This would be done through an existing Education Department program called Impact Aid, a $1.3 billion per year program which gives money to school districts that can’t raise enough local tax revenue due to the prevalence of tax-exempt property.

This is a particular problem for school districts with federal lands such as national parks, Native American reservations, and military installations.

Some of this money would instead be used for giving students who are children of military members an Education Savings Account (ESA), which is tied to the student rather than to the school, as other Impact Aid funding currently is.

The amount given to each student per year would range from $2,500 to $4,500. This could be used for more than a dozen authorized expenses related to education, including college tuition, online learning programs, private tutoring, textbooks, fees for standardized exams or AP tests.

But one specific item is causing particular worry among many: private religious schools.

What supporters say

Supporters argue the legislation would help the kids of military members better pay for school with the options they want. The legislation was introduced in early March in the House by Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN3) and in the Senate by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE).

“The men and women who serve our country in uniform make sacrifices daily, but the education of their children should not be one of them,” House lead sponsor Banks said in a press release. “Expanding educational opportunities for military-dependent children will give parents who serve the peace of mind to focus on their missions.”

“Portability is key for students who are often required to move because of a change in a parent’s military assignment,” Banks continued. “The flexibility in this legislation will allow military families the freedom to tailor their children’s education to best fit individual needs and maximize academic achievement.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that the law is an unconstitutional and immoral violation of the separation of church and state.

“Vouchers and ESAs violate religious liberty by primarily funding religious schools,” reads a letter co-signed by 61 organizations including the American Federation of Teachers, Center for American Progress, and National Education Association. “Parents certainly may choose such an education for their children, but no taxpayer should be required to pay for another‘s religious education.”

Opponents also worry that the money diverts from existing funds that already help the vast majority of students of military families.

“This bill would take away critical Impact Aid funding from school districts serving the majority of military-connected students,” the letter continues, noting that “approximately 80% of children of military families attend public school.” The bill could “funnel those federal dollars to private and unaccountable education providers for families who can already afford a private school education for their child.”

Odds of passage

The bill has attracted 57 House cosponsors, all Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

The bill has a far fewer — Senate cosponsors, just two, both Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

Last updated Apr 19, 2018. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Mar 7, 2018.

Education Savings Accounts for Military Families Act of 2018

This bill amends the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to direct the Department of Education to establish a program to provide children with parents on active duty in the uniformed services with funds for specified educational purposes. Children of active duty service members who reside in a local education agency that receives payments under the Impact Aid Program or who reside within the boundaries of a federal military installation are eligible to receive funds.