What Memorial Day Should Mean

This Memorial Day we remember and honor our fellow citizens who were willing to defend our American liberties to the death.

Nobel Prizewinning economist Milton Friedman was a leading proponent of ending military conscription, or the draft, because forced military service is incompatible with a free society. Thanks in no small part to his opposition, the United States ended the draft in the early 1970s.

But Friedman’s contributions don’t end with economic policy or ending the draft.

Friedman was also a leading proponent of parents’ right to choose their children’s schools, and an emerging policy that traces its origins to Friedman’s work is educational savings accounts, or ESAs.

The concept behind ESAs is simple. Parents who don’t prefer that their children attend government-run public schools would get a portion of what their respective states would have sent to district public schools to enroll their child, deposited into ESAs instead. With those funds parents can pay for private school tuition, tutoring, online courses, or advanced placement testing, among other options. Any leftover funds can also be used for future educational expenses such as college tuition.

As a military spouse myself, one of the leading concerns I hear from military families is that those who served have earned education benefits through the GI Bill or Post 9-11 GI Bill, but they cannot pass on those benefits to their elementary or high-school-aged children or grandchildren.

Recall, military benefits are not entitlements—they are EARNED benefits. Yet there’s a very strict use-it-or-lose-it policy applied to service members’ education benefits. The question I hear most from parents and grandparents who have served our country is, “Whatever happened to all the funds I earned but did not need because my spouse and/or I have earned the college degrees we needed? Why can I not pass on my earned education benefits to my grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or other deserving children of my choice, through an education savings account?”

Sadly, I have not been able to answer those questions. Earned funds that are not used as specified revert back from whence they came. Where those earned benefits go, is anybody’s guess.

ESAs would be a much better policy approach.

Members of our military should be able to deposit their earned education benefits into military ESAs. They should be free to direct those funds to whomever they wish: their spouses, college-age children, or school-age children, grandchildren, or any beneficiary of their choice. After all: it’s THEIR money.

A leading benefit of such a policy would be that no matter where military service members were stationed in the world their spouses and their children could use their earned education benefits as they saw fit. A key—and growing—concern within the military community is the fact that families are sorely constrained regarding where they can live.

Families are stationed throughout the country, with little or no regard for the quality of the schools their children will be attending. What’s more, children of military parents have higher rates of special educational needs, making the choice of schools that much more pressing.

For all the talk we’ll be hearing over the coming days about honoring veterans, one of the greatest signs of appreciation we can offer is the gift of educational freedom for them and beneficiaries of their choice—and not just reform for their college-age children.

Education Savings Accounts are the latest innovation in parental choice in education. To those who’ve sacrificed so much for our liberty and rights as Americans, the least we can do is offer unfettered educational freedom—using the money that they’ve earned.

Vicki E, Alger is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Senior Fellow and Director of the Women for School Choice Project at the Independent Women’s Forum. She is the author of the Independent book, Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children.
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Beacon Posts by Vicki Alger
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