Government subsidies would destroy homeschooling but not help families | Wender Mind Kids

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Freedom is not lost with an authoritarian blow. It happens slowly and gradually.

An unexpected result of the Covid-19 years is that the need for school choice and educational freedom has become more evident than ever. But if lawmakers are not careful, the freedom and flexibility offered by non-public educational alternatives, particularly in the case of homeschooling, could be wiped out by misguided policies.

For the past two years, parents have watched from their living rooms as public schools have failed their children. They have seen school boards implement unscientific health guidelines and have been appalled by divisive curriculum being taught to young children. As a result, more families than ever are pursuing options other than public schools.

But the one feature of public schools that still appeals to the vast majority of parents is that our tax dollars are already paying for public education, so there are no upfront costs. For all other educational institutions, families must pay in advance. With regard to school choice, the most important question that the legislature tries to answer is how to reduce the financial burden.

The most popular solution – especially in Congress – is handing out money. But when it comes to homeschooling, the popular solution is incredibly dangerous. When lawmakers create policies that would make federal funds available to homeschooling families, even as they seek to help those families, they threaten the very foundation that makes homeschooling success. There are no federal dollars that come with no strings attached.

The most commonly proposed policies on Capitol Hill are ESAs (“Educational Savings Accounts”) and “Money Follows the Child” plans. Both sound harmless. Many families already have an education savings account in the form of a 529, into which they have deposited their own money for future educational expenses. As for the latter, it makes sense to follow taxpayer money already spent to follow a child to every school they attend, be it public, private, or home.

But ESAs are not true savings accounts. With an ESA, the government collects taxes earmarked for public education and then redistributes those dollars to families who choose not to attend public schools.

Because the money flows through the government, the government can then decide how it is spent — for example, on what types of schools, curricula, and tutoring programs. The same applies to “money follows the child” bills. The government would still collect taxes destined for public schools, but it would only expand what those taxes can be spent on. The government, not families, would still have the final say on what counts as “authorized expenditure on education.”

When bureaucrats are empowered to decide what is acceptable, freedom of education is threatened. Many families – including Muslims, Christians, Jews and Sikhs – choose to homeschool because they want to include religious content in their lessons. Others have children with learning difficulties who need special tutoring.

The flexibility of homeschooling has led to a plethora of educational methods that allow parents to address these specific concerns. These methods range from interest-driven learning like Montessori (with an emphasis on hands-on, collaborative play) and Finland’s forest kindergarten, where children spend up to 95 percent of their time learning outdoors, to more traditional textbook learning. What person, bureaucrat or anyone else, can say that this wide variety of learning methods all fit into the box of “authorized expenditure on education”?

Government policies on funding education open the door to other regulations: lists of curriculums that families must use, mandatory homeschool registration, and even mandatory home inspections. There have been attempts to implement all of this at the state level. The pressure would be even greater if the federal government were to regulate home schooling as well.

The caustic nature of these public subsidy programs can be seen in California. Currently, believe it or not, California is one of the best states for homeschooling. Homeschooling families register as private schools, and private schools are not subject to the same exam and curriculum requirements as the public options.

But any school in California that is registered as a charter school and not a private school receives funds that go towards approved expenses. The lure of supposedly free money is powerful, and many families have taken advantage of this provision to register their “homeschool” as a charter school in order to receive government funding. The result is that California is seeing an increase in public home school families and a decrease in true home schooled families exempt from state regulations.

The abuse of California’s charter school has also prompted attempts at increased regulation in the state. In recent legislatures, state legislatures have introduced bills to allow more oversight of these “home school” charter schools. Private school families fear this regulatory push could target them next.

Because parents know and love their children better than any government official
society thrives when parents are empowered to make the best decisions for themselves
Children. And that’s why homeschooling works: Families are free from over-regulation
are able to direct their children’s education in a manner best suited to the child’s personality
needs rather than following a one-size-fits-all model.

Policies that allow maximum freedom for homeschooling are policies that help create successful, thriving children and families. The better approach doesn’t take money from families who are already homeschooling. Tax credits, real savings accounts like 529s, and homeschool parents’ eligibility for teacher tax deductions are all ways lawmakers can help reduce the financial cost of school choice without increasing state regulation.

The 529 plans vary from state to state, but can grant families up to $10,000 per year and beneficiaries for tuition at a public or private elementary or secondary school. Their success is well known and helping homeschooling families without the risks associated with ESAs.

The real reason so many families are leaving public schools is because they want less government regulation, more parental choice, and more opportunities to do what is best for their children and families. Keep homeschooling free of federal funding and intervention and allow families to thrive.

Maggie McKneely is the federal relations liaison for HSLDA, the largest legal advocacy group for homeschooling and educational freedom.