U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, while visiting a primary school on the Army base, voiced support for allowing some children in military families to use federal vouchers to attend schools they choose.
During her meeting with parents and teachers at the Kimberly Hampton Primary School, at least one parent told her he would welcome the chance to send his older children to a private high school that matches the quality of the base schools.
The Department of Defense runs eight schools on and near Fort Bragg that enroll 4,044 children from pre-kindergarten to middle school. High school students enroll in public school in surrounding districts.
The local high schools “don’t necessarily work for every child,” said DeVos, an ardent school-choice supporter.
DeVos mentioned a bill filed by U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina that would start a pilot program to allow children on Department of Defense bases that do not have schools run by the department to use federal vouchers worth up to $8,000 a year for elementary school and $12,000 a year for high school.
“We’ll be looking very closely at supporting policies like that,” DeVos said.
North Carolina has a voucher program worth up to $4,200 a year for students whose families meet income guidelines.
DeVos visited the school on base to commemorate the Month of the Military Child. Children in military families face challenges such as parents on deployment and frequent moves.
Moving a lot isn’t something an individual school can address, she said.
“I think it really does take a community, and this community here is very united in the goal of helping to ensure that each of their children have the fullest and best experience,” DeVos said.
Hampton Primary, built a few years ago, enrolls children from pre-kindergarten through first grade.
Class sizes are small. Kindergarten teacher Millard Lamm said classes have 15 to 18 students and a full-time assistant. When he worked at public schools, kindergarten classes had 24 to 26 students and a part-time assistant. Lamm was a public school classroom teacher and administrator before he retired in 2013 and took a teaching job at Fort Bragg.
Instruction is built around projects that teach students to solve problems, work in teams, persevere, defend their idea and compromise, he said.
At a news conference after the discussion, Lt. Col. Tom De La Garza, the father of four children, said the schools on base offer “more of a top-tier private education,” and described them as “an island in the storm that is our military life.”
He’d like the chance to enroll his older children in a private school that is similar to the schools on base.
“Safe environment, good student-to-teacher ratios – that’s exactly what we’re looking for,” De La Garza said.