WASHINGTON — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Thursday backed a proposal to allow military families to use $1.3 billion in public funds to send their children to private school or pay for other education services.

The plan is in line with the Trump administration’s focus on promoting charter and private school programs and other alternatives to traditional public schools across the nation. But it stops short of the $20 billion school choice program that President Trump promised on the campaign trail.

DeVos said that many active duty military families living in bases were dissatisfied with their neighborhood schools and that they deserved to have options. Under the proposal, the government would set up education savings accounts for these parents and send them the money earmarked for them in the public school system. The money can then be used to pay for private school, private instruction, therapy for special needs students, textbooks and other services.

“We have an opportunity in that regard to empower them with some more of those choices,” DeVos said at the Conservative Political Action Conference at Oxon Hill, outside Washington. “An education savings account would afford them a much different dynamic and approach to be able to get their education in the way that best works for them.”

“The support for education freedom and choice in education is broad and wide,” DeVos added.

The proposal, backed by the conservative Heritage Foundation, would make the funds eligible to an estimated 126,000 military-connected children across the nation if they are not happy with their neighborhood schools. Currently, there about 400,000 students in various private school choice programs nationwide, so the reform could potentially increase that number by nearly 25 percent.

Heritage has been working on this idea with Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., and a bill is expected to be introduced in the near future.

Public school advocates are highly critical of DeVos and her school choice agenda, saying that it drains money and resources from public schools.

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