If there was a trap set for you, would you want to know how to identify it? Homeschoolers and those considering educational options should know: not all that glitters is gold. Likewise, just because a bill falls under the umbrella of “school choice” does not mean it’s in the best interest of homeschoolers.
“Fund Students not Systems” and “the Money follows the Child” are appealing slogans promoting school choice efforts. But homeschoolers must understand that the policies connected with those slogans sometimes come with catches. The students who participate in some of these school choice options will actually become part of a regulated system, including content offering determined by government-approved lists. Freeing up more money to support education choice and freedom should not come with strings attached, but often times it does.
“One who receives the shekels, must accept the shackles”
Today’s homeschoolers are following in the footsteps of courageous pioneers in the 70’s who reclaimed their rights as parents to direct their children’s education. The mantle passed on to us. It is our responsibility therefore to guard and protect the path paved for us over the last 50 years. Every self-determined homeschooler understands the immense sacrifice of time and treasure required to do this job well. The proof has been in the pudding. In the state of Maine, homeschoolers currently have tremendous autonomy and have yielded tremendous results. Research has shown repeatedly that homeschoolers excelled both academically and socially, winning national spelling bees and matriculating as well as being sought after by Ivy league.
Due to remote teaching during the pandemic, the composition of Maine’s homeschooling community has changed significantly. Many parents were in shock as they witnessed first-hand what their children were being taught in public schools. In disgust these parents began to homeschool. Being essentially backed into a corner, so-to-speak, these new homeschoolers had no time to fully consider or fully prepare materials, or to analyze the cost/benefit factors. It was an emergency and action needed to happen.
Many of the new homeschoolers are now realizing that homeschooling involves great expense, both in time and money. It’s a tough adjustment to shift from the public school mindset where everything is “free,” to homeschooling where it’s just the opposite. It’s very frustrating. Yes, we pay taxes and now also pay for our child’s education. It’s a financial hit. The temptation to accept any school reform — regardless of the strings that come attached — will be very great. But both veteran homeschoolers and rookies would do well to carefully consider the tradeoffs of any proposal to shake-up education funding.
Homeschoolers must not sacrifice autonomy in exchange for the almighty dollar. One surefire way to accomplish this is to keep any reform, whether it’s vouchers, school choice, or charter schools, entirely separate from homeschooling.
Homeschooling, is the only option for genuine, real autonomy. Hard stop! Once funds of any type — vouchers, tax credits or Education Savings Accounts — are accepted, even if work is done at home, this is not genuine homeschooling. Someone else hold the reins. Of course, as we have seen in other states, in the beginning those reins are very loose. But in a short time they become shorter and shorter.
It is the nature of government programs to grow and grow and reduce the sphere of human freedom and autonomy. In education reform, this means rules and regulations will inevitably proliferate. And the vehicle the government will use to impose on homeschoolers who accept taxpayer funding will be the curriculum, materials, and resources. Never forget, where the government spends, the government regulates. As other states have already demonstrated, pre-selected vendors will provide the pre-approved materials. Additionally, there is a tracking of all expenditures which can easily regulate limitations on purchases. As I write this, the NH legislature is entertaining a bill to alter the current law for the state’s Education Freedom Account (ESA). Lawmakers can’t help themselves.
Please keep in mind, once a parent accepts state or federal funds for any program, they will have to sign a contract. Contracts have rules and regulations. A parents will forfeit and/or risk the ability to determine the curriculum, which can easily vary from child to child. Other states who have gone ahead of Maine with either tax credits, ESAs or vouchers have demonstrated these encroaching restrictions. We have no excuse to be naive. Alaska and California began with loosely regulated ESA program. As time marched on, regulations became more restrictive, impacting curriculum selection and especially restricting religious curricula. Taxpayer funded education programs have many names: school vouchers, charter schools, and different species of education savings accounts, like Education Freedom Accounts, Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, or Individualized Education Accounts. They story is the same.
Looking back at more than 30 years of experience mentoring homeschoolers here in Maine and beyond, I sense a shift occurring. It has been exacerbated by the COVID lockdowns and vaccine mandates for school aged children who can not use religious or philosophical exemptions for refuse certain vaccines. These parents have been forced into the homeschool world, not so much for ideological reasons but as a matter of necessity.
As Maine considers school choice reforms, and homeschoolers look to navigate the political debate, here are some questions we should consider before choosing to support a given reform:
- What mechanisms are in place to prevent future legislatures and/or bureaucrats from changing the current rules?
- What curricular options are available now?
- Where may I access curriculum and other resources?
- What are the specific requirements to participate?
- What state assessments are required? Is there a specific threshold to meet for these assessments? What happens if that is not met?
- How does the law protect the autonomy of homeschoolers ?
- If a homeschooler changes their mind but don’t want to participate through the remainder of the year, what are the consequences?
- Republicans have been the driving force behind all the destructive education policies since the 90’s; No Child Left Behind, Standards Based Education, Common Core, Proficiency Based/SEL Education and now The School Choice Agenda, all part of the Global Agenda derived from UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). Where is the proof this won’t destroy the only truly autonomous choice, homeschooling?
- Will bill sponsors in Maine insert specific language to exclude or exempt homeschoolers from the ‘school choice’ language? If not, why not?
As an advocate for homeschooling in the truest sense of the word, I encourage parents to be vigilant and alert to protecting and preserving homeschool liberties. Homeschoolers need to cut through the hype and look under the hood of any policy which may erode or control homeschooling autonomy. For more than 5 decades, homeschooling has been a tremendous way to educate children. Stand firm and hold the course.