Honor the Heroes of Liberty: Give Military Families Educational Freedom

Military members and their families deserve to be celebrated today. America’s 244 years of independence has been secured through sacrifice – first by the Continental Army of 1776 and now by our troops. Although military members sacrifice willingly, Pennsylvania leaders can lighten their burden. Military members should not need to sacrifice their child’s education as a condition of service.

COVID-19 thrust nearly all kids into new and uncertain school situations, but that uncertainty is a recurring reality for military kids. Throughout their school years, military kids, on average, move six to nine times. While military kids are forced to be flexible, school district lines aren't. Eleven-year-old Harper, whose dad is in the Army, knows firsthand how curricula can change from school to school. He sometimes struggles to learn in a new environment. Thankfully, Harper’s parents chose to homeschool him, and Harper is now thriving in his new environment.

The government school to which military kids are assigned may not meet their educational needs, and unfortunately, nearly half of active-duty military families have no school choice options.

Rep. Andrew Lewis has a plan to help kids like Harper. House Bill 1296 would create Military Education Scholarship Accounts (ESA) for Pennsylvania children of soldiers killed in action and full-time active duty members. An ESA would give a portion of state’s per pupil education funding directly to the parents for their child’s education-related expenses. Kids could use the account for private school tuition, online programs, therapy, or tutoring. While military duty means that home’s location is uncertain, servicemembers’ children deserve more assurance that their education won’t suffer. ESAs give families the freedom to choose a quality education that best meets their needs.

Patriotism runs strong in the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, so it’s no surprise that Pennsylvanians stand united in support for military children. Eighty-five percent of Pennsylvanians support an ESA program for military families.

State lawmakers should act to extend educational freedom to the guardians of liberty, the families who secure our borders and make the American dream a reality.

In addition to supporting military kids, lawmakers can immediately support kids who were most affected by COVID-19. According to a RAND survey, “only 12 percent of teachers reported covering all or nearly all of the curriculum that they would have covered had their buildings remained open.” The figures were even worse in rural areas, at 7%. Kids need to get back on track. Back on Track Education Scholarship Accounts would help low-income students who lost months of learning during the pandemic. Scholarships could be used for broadband, technology, tutoring, or other educated-related expenses. Back on Track ESAs would be funded through the remaining $1.3 billion of federal CARES Act funds, which must be allocated this year for pandemic-related expenses.

Back on Track co-sponsorship memos have been submitted in both chambers by Sen. Judy Ward in the Senate and Rep. Clint Owlett in the House.

ESAs make sense because each child has unique gifts that can’t be met by one-size-fits-all schooling. This 4th of July, let’s celebrate the freedoms won by the men and women in uniform, and let’s look to a bright future where all kids can thrive in schools custom fit to their needs.