By Meg Flanagan

A new president and administration means new laws are getting some face time on the Capitol Hill. Some of the resolutions and bills being floated could directly impact the education of military families and children. Here’s how:

Note: HR designates a bill introduced in the House of Representatives. S indicates a bill proposed in the Senate.

1. HR 610

school from Flickr via Wylio
© 2007 justine warrington, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

This bill covers a lot of ground but is generally broken into three parts:

  1. The bill would repeal the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) and limit the power of the Department of Education to only approving block grants for qualifying states.
  2. Block grants would be given to eligible states and distributed to local education agencies (school districts) to award to parents based on criteria (not specified). Parents would then use these grants to enroll their child in private school or pay for homeschool expenses. States must ensure that funds are used for appropriate education activities. For states to qualify, they must meet the voucher program requirements and make it lawful for parents to enroll their children in any public, private school in the state or to homes school.
  3. Repeals the rule in the No Hungry Kids Act that specifies an increased availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat free milk in school lunches.

Impact on students:

1. The ESEA was signed in 1965 by Lyndon B. Johnson and reauthorized every five years. The most recent reauthorization is the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) by Barack Obama in 2016. The ESEA 1965 provided for funding of Title 1 programs in reading and math; funding of school libraries and purchasing of textbooks and instructional materials; and funding for additional educational activities.

By repealing this act, Title 1 programs might be defunded. Many schools around the country–including DoD schools and public schools near military bases–are Title 1 schools. Title 1 programs provide additional instruction to identified students in reading and math outside of the special education system. These programs help students who are low in reading and/or math improve their skills and reach grade level. If your child is receiving additional reading or math support, it is likely through Title 1 funding.

Schools would also likely be facing increased limits on funding dedicated to purchasing teaching and learning materials. This would include textbooks, books for school libraries and other materials used in the classroom.

2a. Families who homeschool are concerned about the impact of the language regarding vouchers. This section stipulates that vouchers will be distributed to “ensure” their use in “appropriate educational expenses.” This could require oversight of what and how families are teaching their children.

Since funds will be distributed to school districts based on raw numbers, this would mean that homeschooling families would need to register and be tracked by the district in order to receive their vouchers. Both of these things go against some of the basic freedoms of homeschooling, especially in states where homeschooling rules offer freedom from such tracking.

By adding in these requirements at the federal level, it would allow local school districts to determine what counts as “valid” homeschool practices. This type of control over what and how to learn is precisely the reason that many families have opted to leave the traditional education system.

2b. This clause about vouchers could potentially create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Students get vouchers to go to schools that are perceived to be “better” or to homeschool which redirects funds from the public schools. This reduces the assets available for staffing and supplies, possibly lowering the overall quality of education in the public schools. . .which would then lead to more students receiving vouchers. And the cycle would begin again.

It is not specified where the money from the federal government would come from. If it is coming from federal funds previously designated to public schools, this could lead to lower staffing levels and lack of high quality teaching or learning materials.

3. Removing and revising this portion of the No Hungry Kids Act would eliminate federal USDA oversight of the contents of school lunches and breakfasts. Under the current law, there are caloric requirements as well as standard requirements for serving fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins, and dairy products.

This is important because 24% of children attending DoDEA schools (statistics do not include children enrolled in local public or private schools or who are homeschooled) are eligible for free lunch. An additional 21% are eligible for reduced lunch. Many of these same families might also be on WIC or a food stamps program. For these children, school lunches might be the most nutritious meal they eat all day. Removing these guidelines and standards for nutritional content of school lunches might impact these children.

2. HR 899

Department of Education Seal from Flickr via Wylio
© 2011 DonkeyHotey, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

This bill proposes to eliminate the Department of Education (DoE). The DoE oversees and guides federal regulation of national education policies and provides direction and guidance for states and local education authorities. They also provide some funding for education programs, like Title 1 and special education.

The DoE also oversees the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This act legally guarantees equal access to education for students with disabilities in the public school setting and assists students in private or homeschools to receive services through the local school district.

Impact on Military Families

Without the DoE to implement IDEA and provide the funding for Title 1 and special education, many schools will be at risk of losing these programs. It could be up to states, school districts, or individual schools to enforce IDEA. Military families, due to frequent moves, could see an increased discrepancy in special education services offered between schools and districts beyond what we are already seeing.

Title 1 programs are federally funded and guided. Without the DoE, this funding may be reallocated. Title 1 programs can help military children who may be missing portions of these basic skills due to moves and differing academic standards between states.

3. HR 886

USACE adopts DoDEA students from Flickr via Wylio
© 2013 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

This bill would let the dependent children of retired military personnel attend DoDEA schools if these families also live in base housing.

Impact on Military Families

This may not have much impact on our community, since military retirees likely live off-base or in non-military towns or at/on a base without a DoDEA school.

This might impact families of DoD employees overseas with school aged children; however, these families can already access DoDEA education services through their DoD affiliation.

Dependent children of military retirees who do live on base with a DoDEA school following retirement would be allowed to continue to access DoDEA schools. This might become more of a possibility as some military bases open housing to civilians.

4. HR 716

Leith Walk Elementary School from Flickr via Wylio
© 2012 Maryland GovPics, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

This bill does several things:

  1. It would allow states to allocate federal educational grant funds to local public schools and state-accredited private schools based on the number of children enrolled in those schools who meet the poverty threshold.
  2. It would expand Coverdell Education Savings Accounts to include homeschools as “private schools,” even if state law does not count them as such.
  3. It would expand 529 Programs to include pre-kindergarten, elementary, and secondary education at public, private, or religious schools. 529 funds could be used to pay for tuition, fees, room and board, technology, and other academic items as needed or required by the school. It would also allow 529 funds to pay for extended day programs.

Impact on Military Families

1. By funneling money through federal grants to schools serving students living in poverty, more money could come to schools for needed programs. Since these grants would be equally available to public and private schools,  improvements could be seen across the board.

Funds will be directed to the schools, as opposed to individual families. This makes the distribution of funds slightly more equitable than having specific funds following a specific child from school to school.

2. This would allow military families with 529 accounts to use those savings to send their children to a private school of their choice instead of a public school. For families in both private and public schools, families would be able to offset additional school costs.

This expansion of allowable ways to use 529 funds could open up private schools to more students with disabilities. It would potentially allow military families more choice in where they send their children to school.

However, both Coverdell and 529 Plan accounts are required to use sections 2 and 3 of this bill. Without those accounts in effect, there will be no impact on military families. Section 1 would impact military families depending on the number of students living in poverty enrolled in their public or private K-12 school.

5. HR 245

HDR: Old Main Administrative Center at Penn State, Spring 2016. from Flickr via Wylio
© 2016 Hillel Steinberg, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

This bill would amend the housing allocation section of the Post 9/11 GI Bill. It would change the calculation of the housing allowance from the college where the student is enrolled to the actual campus where the student physically attends classes.

Impact on Military Families

This change in wording to change the amount of money Post 9/11 GI Bill students are receiving for housing allowances. Based on where your particular campus is located, the housing allowance could increase or decrease.

It could potentially affect students who attend online school and do not visit their school or campus. There is no language in the bill to include online students.

6. HR 691

George Read Middle School from Flickr via Wylio
© 2013 Best Buddies Delaware, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

The third section of this bill is most important for military families. Section three allows for the creation of a scholarship program specifically for military families to allow for greater school choice. Eligible students would apply and be selected to receive funds to attend a public or private school of their choice.

Impact on Military Families

This would expand school options for military students who live on base and ease the financial burden on parents.

7. HR 1112/S 410

Trinity College, Dublin from Flickr via Wylio
© 2012 Alex Ranaldi, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

The same bill has been introduced in both the House and the Senate. While full text of the proposed bills are not available for review as of February 25, 2017, the titles of the bills are self-explanatory: “A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to authorize the transfer of unused Post-9/11 Educational Assistance benefits to additional dependents upon the death of the originally designated dependent.”

Impact on Military Families

This could provide more flexibility in using GI Bill benefits. Essentially, if the service member designates their Post 9/11 GI Bill to one of their dependents and if that person dies before the GI Bill is used, then another dependent could have the GI Bill transferred to them. It would prevent GI Bill benefits from going unused should a tragedy occur.

All of the bills outlined are still in the early stages of the legal process. If you have concerns about any portion of these bills, contact your US Senators and Representatives.