Exploiting Veterans and the Military

May, 2018

Washington and Lincoln -- It's Memorial Day and a time to think of veterans past, present, and future.

The New York Times led off the day with a harsh but truthful look at how veterans are being exploited by predatory colleges. It is shameful; it is corrupt, there are no other words for it. As a veteran myself, I assist as much as I can those who are in the fight to protect veterans, but it is a difficult struggle when so much of the country willfully turns a blind eye to it.

Then there is the news that my U.S. senator, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, supports taking money out of the federal Impact Aid program to support private elementary and secondary schools for the children of those in the military. Impact Aid now supports public schools to make up for the loss of taxable property in locations where there are large military bases. Bellevue and Papillion in Nebraska are examples of school districts where there are many military schoolchildren but a small tax base due to the presence of Offut Air Force Base.

When I worked in the U.S. Senate many years ago, Impact Aid was targeted for cuts by Ronald Reagan. The cuts had no real rationale behind them other than that Nebraska should be happy to have the presence of Offut and that state, not federal, taxpayers should be responsible for equalizing property tax bases among districts.

Bellevue and Papillion school boards approached Nebraska Senator Jim Exon about fighting the cuts to Impact Aid. He was a member of the Armed Services Committee and well-positioned to lead the fight. And lead he did, organizing a hearing at which he was joined by his committee colleagues Sam Nunn of Georgia, John Warner of Virginia, John Tower of Texas, and others to keep Impact Aid intact.

If memory serves (I assisted with the testimony), John Chafee of Rhode Island, a former Secretary of the Navy, and James Abnor of South Dakota also fought the cuts vigorously. Abnor was particularly concerned about the effect of the cuts on South Dakota counties with Indian Reservations.

The effort succeeded. Impact Aid survived intact.

How times change. Now my Nebraska senator would take funds from Impact Aid with the rationale that military families will choose to take their children out of public schools, so districts like Bellevue and Papillion will have fewer pupils and therefore need less support.

If I were still writing testimony on Impact Aid, I would raise another question. Is it good to promote, with federal funds, an educational system in which military families are incentivized to leave the the public schools? The public schools are institutions that bring communities together, where civilians and military families mix and learn from each other. The public schools are places where our common heritage and common values are taught. Increasingly, non-public schools and home-based schools are teaching their own versions of our country, promoting nativist and sectarian ideologies. Many military children go into military service themselves. Is it for support of such ideological causes our future military is being prepared?

Looking at these matters from a veteran's viewpoint, I think we are on dangerous ground here at all levels of education, from elementary school through college. What are we becoming as a nation, when veterans and those in military service are not so much to be honored as exploited?