Recently an article from HSLDA came up in my Facebook feed (linked by another homeschooler) and I promptly read it. The subject: “Urgent Action Needed: Congress Attempting to Give Federal Government Money to Homeschools.” The article states that there is a bill working its way through Congress (H. R. 610 ) that is highly important, because
“It calls for sending all federal education dollars to the states in the forms of federal grants so that the states can then give the money as vouchers to public, private, and homeschool students. ” HSLDA, Will Estrada and Mike Smith.
Note, homeschoolers are included. My emphasis on homeschool in the quote.
The article from HSLDA spells out doom and destruction if Federal money ever crosses your doorstep. And I have to admit, buried deep in the bill is this little sentence that worries me:
“In the case of a payment made to a parent of an eligible child who elects to home-school such child, the amount of the payment described in subparagraph (A) for each eligible child shall not exceed the cost of home-schooling the child.”
So not only will this bill require identifying and counting all homeschoolers by the federal government, it will also require some sort of financial record keeping as well. Otherwise, how will they know what it costs to home-school the child?
My first reaction was “Keep your stinking money!” because if the government hands you money, they expect something in return. HSLDA’s take on it is a bit more sinister: this would be the first federal involvement in homeschooling regulations. They view it as a states’ rights grab by the federal government, and would prefer a “leave-us-alone” kind of approach.
Whatever you think about the motives or resulting consequences, this is a major push to change the educational system in multiple different ways. And it’s including homeschoolers.
Would you take vouchers?
I posed this question on a Facebook group hoping to get input from the wide variety of homeschoolers there. And boy did I get input! 200 + comments on the subject, and a few extra on the rest of the bill’s changes.
It was about half and half: between “sure, I’ll take the money” and “hell has to freeze over first!” The overarching theme was interesting – homeschoolers value a strong educational system even though they do not directly benefit from it. The majority of them prefered to pay their taxes to support local schools in lieu of an option to suspend taxes while homeschooling. It was an interesting anecdotal look at how homeschoolers’ minds work.
And it makes sense. After all, a lot of us homeschoolers wouldn’t be homeschooling if the public schools could meet our requirements. I would put the Engineer in school in a heartbeat if I knew he would get the support he needed because I know I’m not a teacher. It’s not my strong point. We’re managing, but I worry that other people, trained teachers, could do a better job.
Homeschoolers are bucking the system because the system doesn’t work for them. I’m betting that a lot of us think the system needs to be tweaked or fixed, but most of us don’t want to scrap it all together. Charter schools aren’t available everywhere, and homeschooling isn’t a choice that everyone can make.
So, after thinking about it and mulling things over, I came to a conclusion. I support homeschooling vouchers – provided that they model the system after the California system already in place. Let me explain why.
First, it’s federal money. It’s not state money, and I’m not taking anything from local schools by accepting the money. Schools only get federal money if they physically have the student enrolled in their school. And it’s not that much – about 10% of money spent on students comes from federal money, as opposed to local or state governments.
Second, as set up in the current bill, states would distribute the money. They would do whatever tracking and data keeping was required to prove eligibility. Our state already registers us and tracks our students’ progress: not a huge big deal if that’s what you’re already used to.
Third, it’s optional. You wouldn’t have to take the money, or even register assuming your state doesn’t require it. If you are concerned about the obvious church/state separation issues, don’t be. If you want a faith-based curriculum, then buy it with your personal money. Use your vouchers to purchase approved things like art supplies, science kits, and classes.
Fourth, my final, biggest reason of all: this may be the one thing that allows families to homeschool who feel like they have no other options.
No matter how you look at it, a few measly vouchers wouldn’t pay for the loss of a second income. Most homeschoolers follow the traditional model of 1 breadwinner and 1 stay-at-home parent, simply because it’s almost impossible to homeschool-while-working without a great support network. It can be done, and I’ve talked to a few who make it work, but they all say it’s hard. Really hard.
So when you add in the loss of income and top it off with additional homeschooling costs, it can be daunting. Scary, even. Having a voucher option could help families who need that extra financial push in order to afford pulling their kids out of school.
I don’t know why I’m even writing about this, honestly. By the time the bill gets to its final destination, it will be unrecognizable from its current state. HSLDA is actively working to remove federal/homeschooling possibilities from the bill’s language. As one of the largest homeschool lobbyists around, they have a lot of clout.
The bill and resulting kerfuffle made me think – made me consider things I hadn’t even formed opinions on yet. I consider that a good discussion. Comfort-zone stretching, even. And we all need a little of that to keep us from becoming rigid.