Being a conservative Republican and against school choice legislation confuses a lot of people. I have been writing about the dangers of school choice legislation for years and conservatives don’t understand why. Here is my answer.
School vouchers, ESAs, and “funding follows the student”
For clarification, these government funds include school voucher programs, education savings accounts (ESAs), charter schools, and any other public funding for private education. The names keep changing, but the premise is still the same: the public funds private school tuition and home schools.
Many people believe that school vouchers (or ESAs or “funding students” any other form of tax dollars for education) would be a gift, because they are so desensitized to the government taking this money in the first place. It’s been happening all of their lives, like social security and income taxes. It’s painless because it’s automatically taken from us.
In the way that many Americans view their tax refund as some sort of bonus, school vouchers are seen as a gift, or a blessing.
Let me tell you: neither is true.
Tax refunds are the result of the government taking too much of your hard-earned income all year, and giving some of it back to you in the following year. It’s not a bonus. And you have to give up all sorts of information, file the paperwork on the IRS’s terms, and suffer the consequences if you don’t follow their instructions. (It’s better to claim the smallest amount of deductions all year and pay a very small tax bill, and live on that extra money throughout the year. If you don’t know how, consult a tax professional.)
School vouchers are similar. The government forcibly taxes us for schools. We have no say, and in almost all cases, no one gets to opt out of school taxes. A voucher or education savings account (ESA) is often billed as similar to an income tax refund: “the money I paid in school taxes.”
But looking at vouchers this way is narrow-minded. We are the frog-in-the-pot. We’ve been in the pot so long, having the school taxes taken from us (just like income taxes) that we don’t think anything of it. Instead of fighting the taxation, we just want “our” piece of the government pie.
But school taxation is immoral, and socialistic. In fact, most of our taxation is. But Americans have gotten so used to it happening, that instead of fighting the taxation itself, we settle for “our fair share.” What’s more, we consider government the main source of charity.
‘Vouchers are confiscatory and amount to nothing less than legal plunder. (For more on the concept of “legal plunder” I refer you to Frederic Bastiat’s excellent book on government and economics, “The Law.”) The concept of taking from the rich (or those who have) to give to the poor (those who have not) may sound good in the Robin Hood fables, but it is nothing less than an immoral breaking of the 8th Commandment of God: “Thou Shalt Not Steal.” It is no less immoral simply because it is the government doing it.’ -Israel Wayne, Why School Vouchers are Bad for Conservatives)
Do the School Tax Math
It is common knowledge (though I think often ignored) that a substantial portion of our population pays school taxes, but has no children. Singles, young couples, empty nesters, and senior citizens. In 2021, 40% of Americans had school-aged children at home. That means 60% did not. In addition, about 35% of Americans rent their homes, meaning they do not pay property taxes directly. Homeowners pay school taxes, and property owners pay school taxes for each property they own.
A minute or two of math can illustrate how paying your school taxes doesn’t not necessarily entitle you to a voucher or ESA. I’ll use my own case from our last home:
In 2016, we had four school-aged children at home. We paid approximately $3,000 per year to the local public schools. At the same time, the Texas legislature proposed school choice programs that included an ESA debit card for homeschool or private school funding. Each school-aged student would receive $5,000 per school year for education expenses. That would have amounted to $20,000 in state money for our family (which is $17,000 more than we paid in school taxes).
Can you see the discrepancy? We would not be getting “our” tax dollars back. We’d get ours, plus several of our neighbors’ who did not have any children at home. They are forced to pay the tax, while it would be handed over to us on a debit card.
There is nothing conservative or moral about this scenario.
What exactly does it mean to be conservative?
In American politics, a conservative believes in capitalism and limited government.
Capitalism is “an economic system, characterized by open competition in a free market, in which the means of production and distribution are privately or corporately owned and development is proportionate to increasing accumulation and reinvestment of profits.” (The American Heritage Dictionary, c.1982)
A free market is defined by Merrian Webster as “an economic market or system in which prices are based on competition among private businesses and not controlled by a government.”
Limited government is one in which the people exercise more power than the government, as in the original design of our Constitutional Republic.
It’s clear that government funded Education Savings Accounts, vouchers, and other taxpayer funded mechanisms for private schooling or home schooling are not “free market” educational options. If the state is funding and overseeing all the education — public, private, and home — it’s a monopoly. (This is exactly what Betsy Devos desires for Americans.)
Many states have, or are trying to implement, some form of “school choice” legislation that would give parents a certain amount of tax dollars to spend on public charter schools, religious schools, other private schools, and homeschool materials. Arizona families are beginning to take advantage of Education Savings Accounts (ESAs)
There are numerous examples in place right now that illustrate the problem with vouchers and ESAs. Take Arizona, for example, with their recently passed empowerment scholarship accounts. Families are designated a certain amount of money for their homeschooling curriculum, but that’s not all. In exchange for using “approved materials” for academics, they are allowed to pay for therapies, lessons, testing, bank fees, and more. Arizona students, under the ESA, may take piano, tennis, horseback riding, and other extracurricular activities (non-academics, mind you) with government money. Knowing this, how can a conservative justify such spending?
Instead of forging ahead with this, conservatives could put this energy into lowering property taxes and cutting all of the wasteful spending happening in public school districts.
Thankfully, Oklahoma voted down the Oklahoma Empowerment Account in 2022. Oklahoma homeschoolers know better. Constitutional Home Educators Alliance is educating parents on the pitfalls of this kind of government intrusion. Other state homeschool organizations are also very savvy: Missouri, Nevada, Indiana, and even Homeschool Legal Defense Association.
Here are just a few examples of bills presently on the table, as well as the experiences of states who have already implemented school choice legislation:
The list is much longer, but you get the idea. Notice how often the words “accountability” and “oversight” are mentioned. This is why school choice is called a Trojan Horse. It’s a trap. Whether the oversight is immediate, or amended later, it is going to happen.
Again, this is not limited government, nor is it conservative.
Government welfare and biblical charity are not the same
Friends, it is un-American to take from your neighbor. Our founders fought a revolution for so much less than what we are hashing out today. It is not biblical to let the government be a charity organization. But that is literally what Christians everywhere are advocating for. It’s not just education, either. Christians push for Medicaid use, food stamps, welfare, and other government funded handouts, when we should be meeting these needs as the body of Christ.
When Jesus instructed us to love our neighbors, it was to each of us personally. We are to give and help and assist the needy, as individuals, as families, and as a church body. But the church slowly let the government step in and take the place of charity, and to do so, this same government has become a behemoth that taxes us for everything and tells us what we can and cannot do.
Yes, it is true the public school system is failing the students of the United States of America. Public money is being used to fund a massive bureaucracy that produces dismal academic results and even worse ideologies. We do need to help more families get their kids out of this system. But the answer to the problem is not to make the problem bigger: in this case, the answer to government schools is not more government schools. And no matter how you phrase it, government funds for private education will become government school.
There are millions, probably billions, of private dollars available to help solve this problem by private donations and charity from religious organizations and other philanthropic entities. Limited government solutions call for private funding and community involvement. Read my blog post Five Ways to Help Someone Else Homeschool.
Vouchers are an Entitlement
Thomas Paine wisely wrote, “Immediate necessity makes many things convenient, which, if continued to grow, would grow into oppressions.” If you take a minute and think about it, I’m sure you can identify some great ideas that started as a necessity and then became oppression. Remember: government does not shrink itself. It is only the grass roots who do that. And the best way to shrink government is to prevent the growth in the first place.
Government funds for private educational services of any kind are an entitlement program. If you did the voucher math, you can’t deny it.
We already have educational choice
“Now we all know that homeschooling did not begin as a movement because of the top-down vision of a politician, nor was it dependent on government largesse. Homeschooling began when a handful of moms and dads just like you and me said, ‘enough.‘” (Source) State governments did not create homeschooling. The federal government did not create homeschooling. It was private citizens, exercising their freedom as Americans, who made a choice. Period. No funding necessary. Choice is not about who gives you the money to accomplish a task; choice is about deciding to accomplish the task no matter what. We have that now.
The parents of children all over America have the choice to utilize traditional public schools, to pay for private school, or to educate their children at home. In public school, the students are subject to both federal education regulations (through Title IX federal funds), as well as state government regulation. Private institutions and homeschool families (in most cases) are not subject to these regulations.
In my home state of Texas, we have absolutely no regulations on homeschooling. So any requirements imposed in exchange for school vouchers or ESAs would be more than we currently enjoy.
Moms and Dads, please hear me when I say it is not worth it. Don’t trade the ultimate freedom and flexibility of homeschooling for a state-sponsored generic version of homeschooling. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and if you don’t see the way, reach out to me. I can help you: whether your issue is budget, single parenting, a work schedule, special needs, or something else, I can help.
Limited government, a free market, and neighbors helping neighbors is the American way. Let’s keep it alive by rejecting school “choice” legislation.
- Understanding School Choice
- The Republican Roots of School Choice
- YouTube with Deb Filman: Understanding School Choice
Read my book Anyone Can Homeschool.