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Trump Administration: Don't Rob Impact Aid Dollars for Military Choice

Betsy-DeVos-CPAC-600.jpg By Alyson Klein and Andrew Ujifusa

The Trump administration does not support a proposal to use a portion of Impact Aid program funding to help expand school choice to military-connected children, an administration official told Education Week.

Sources within the administration say they want to give military families more choices. But they don't think robbing Impact Aid is the way to do it. 

The proposal, introduced by Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., in the House of Representatives, and GOP Sens. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Tim Scott of South Carolina, in the Senate, faces stiff opposition from advocates for school districts and military families. And it is likely to stumble in Congress, where the $1.3 billion Impact Aid program enjoys bipartisan support.

Impact Aid is used to help school districts make up for a federal presence, such as Native American reservation or military base. Under Banks' proposal, which is based on a paper written by the conservative Heritage Foundation, part of the funding would instead flow directly to families in the form of Education Savings Accounts or ESAs. These accounts can be used for a range of services, including private school tuition, dual enrollment courses, or tutoring.

Banks had planned to introduce the bill as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which is up for debate in Congress soon. Supporters, including the Heritage Foundation, say the legislation would expand education options to an important population of students and would help military retention rates.

But detractors, including the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, worry that the proposal could divert as much as $450 million from impact aid.

That would create "unprecedented uncertainty" for federally impacted school, wrote NAFIS in a recent report. "The potential for such a significant funding reduction would severely hinder a school district's ability to maintain the staff, programs, services, and infrastructure necessary to support military connected students, a vast majority of whom are educated in public school districts."

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has given a lot of rhetorical support to the idea of helping military-connected children access choice, most prominently in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee or CPAC. But she hasn't endorsed a specific proposal.

She has, however, said that another bill introduced by Scott was worth a look. That legislation would create a school choice pilot program on several military bases, using Pentagon funding.

Heritage Action, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation, is championing the Banks legislation. But it hasn't taken a position on Scott's other bill, said Dan Holler, a vice president at Heritage Action, the group's political arm.

Another possibility: Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., has introduced an amendment to the NDAA that would create a small, pilot scholarship program for special-needs children of military personnel.

Want more? Check out these to commentary pieces on Impact Aid

Impact Aid Is a Lifeline for Military-Connected Kids

The Time Has Come to Empower Military Families With School Choice

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., on Feb. 22. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP

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