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Changing Schools is Challenging for Military Children. School Choice Can Help.

• Shelby Hodges

Growing up as a military child, I attended five different schools in three states throughout my K-12 education.  

I was fortunate to continue my education in the same school district throughout middle school and high school, but some of my peers were not that luckyLiving in a military community, many students moved every two years which is the typical length of a military assignmentThe average military family with school-aged children moves six to nine times throughout their educationMy school always had many new students each year, and students would leave each summer as well.  

A large portion of military families choose to live in on-base housing, which often is not zoned for the best school districts. My family was fortunate to live off base, so my brother and I could attend higher-performing public schools in our area. Many parents decide to send their children to private schoolswhile others use school choice to send their children to different public schools with other academic opportunities and programs.  

School choice allows military families to send their children to schools that are not in their assigned school districtwhich often are a better fit for their children’s academic needs. In some states, military children are also eligible for Education Scholarship Accounts, which are flexible spending accounts that can be used for private school tuition or other resources. They are currently only available in six states, while legislation creating ESA accounts have been filed in an additional 25 states.  

One of my best friends in high school opted to use school choice to attend a different public school than the one she was zoned to attend. Her family moved the summer before we started our junior year of high school, and this was the third high school she would be attending in three years due her father being in the Air Force.  

Her family lived on base and they were assigned to one of the lowest-performing schools in the area. Not only were the academic programs low-performingbut the school also had a lot of drug and gang-related problems. After her parents learned thisthey transferred her and her sister to the high school I attended, which provided them with a stronger education and a safer learning environment. 

Many military children go through a difficult academic transition, as school curriculum varies as they move from state-to-state.  

In elementary school, I was always ahead of my class academically. I was in my schools gifted program, and I exceled in my classes. In fifth grade, my family moved across the country. When I started my new school a couple months before the end of fifth grade, I was noticeably ahead of my classmates academically. My classmates were learning concepts that I had learned years before, preventing me from moving ahead academically. And my classes did not have the same structure that I had grown accustomed to in my previous school.  

I was not being challenged nor was I learning new things. This made my academic transition very difficult – I did not develop strong study habits early on, as I already knew many of the lessons I was learning in school. 

My brother moved across the country between his sophomore and junior years of high school, and he had a difficult transitionAs he started his junior year, he discovered his new school had a different academic track than his old school. Being the new kid at school is hard enough and taking different classes than your peers makes it even more difficult. 

While many military families are not given many options in choosing where to move, they should have the ability to choose where their children attend school. Military servicemembers sacrifice so much for our country, and the quality of their children’s education should not be sacrificed in return. School choice gives military children the opportunity to receive an education that best fits their needs and provides them with a foundation for a strong future.  

About the author

Shelby Hodges

Shelby Hodges is a communications intern at ExcelinEd. She is also a senior at Florida State University.