Choice is freedom. And that is why we hear so many begging for school choice around the country. But you may not be aware of the reality: school choice has two different meanings, and one of them is actually less freedom.
So what are the two meanings?
- Education Freedom: this is simply the right to choose where to send your kids to school. They may attend public school, you might pay for private school, or you might choose to educate them at home. Private school tuition is your responsibility. Homeschooling is private and you, the parent, choose and pay for all materials and activities.
- Education subsidies: this is what politicians refer to often as “school choice.” It has multiple names, like vouchers or “money follows the child.” It’s billed as getting your tax dollars back and giving them to the public school district of your choice, as well as to pay for private school tuition or home education materials.
Education subsidies, vouchers, school choice legislation, “money follows the child,” – this is what freedom-loving Americans do not want. Let’s explore the details.
Public funds for private ed?
Think about private education: it’s private because those who pay for it are not beholden to any government. Whether it’s a private school or private homeschooling, private funding is what makes it different. Privately-funded education is free from curriculum and testing requirements as well as fad ideologies that change with the wind.
Let’s face it: public education is a poorly managed behemoth that produces measly academic results with an increased focus on social outcomes. The entire reason for “school choice” is because of the mess in public schools. Parents desperately want a way out.
But asking for the state to fund a private alternative is like running away from an abusive spouse and then inviting that abuser to live with you in your new apartment. When we see this happen in real life, we pity the abused spouse and his or her inability to get complete freedom.
If you want out of the public school system, get completely out. Don’t ask that same government to “help you.”
“My tax dollars”
The most often-used argument from supporters of vouchers is that they just want the money back from school taxes to use for a different form of education. And in a sense, I agree. We all want to pay fewer taxes, and to keep our money.
But asking the government for a specific amount to use for a specific purpose is not freedom. This money will come with strings (though not always in the beginning). Remember this: what the government funds, the government runs.
“After all, this interpretation of “freedom” accepts the idea that parents must still be supervised to make appropriate educational choices. This form of “freedom” is really just navigating another public school system.” (School Choice & the Cost of Freedom by Alison Slatter)
The better option is to vote for candidates who seek to eliminate property taxes and fund schools through another means. This eliminates burdensome taxes for everyone, not just the parents of school children. Public schools will still be free to use, and if you choose a form of private education, you’ll be able to afford it because of your reduced tax burden.
Just how much money are we talking about?
The latest numbers in Texas reveal that $9,606 is spent on education per pupil. In New York, that number jumps to $24,040. That’s a lot of money. The sources of these tax dollars vary from property taxes to federal subsidies. “Tax dollars follow the child” looks a lot different under these kinds of numbers, doesn’t it? Who will oversee the use of those funds? If you imagine there would be no oversight or accountability for this amount of money, you’re dreaming of a fairy tale.
Let’s assume that a school voucher is equal to the amount a family pays for the local ISD in their property taxes each year. This falls under the “I pay the taxes, so I should get to choose” argument. That might be anywhere from $500-$2000, depending on the local tax district. But what about families who don’t own property? Where will their voucher money come from? What about the person who owns property, and therefore pays property taxes, but has no children?
A few years ago, Texas had a proposed ESA (education savings account) which was just a debit card for educational spending. Our family would have qualified for roughly $5000 per child, with more alloted for special needs or low-income families. At the time, I had 5 children of school age. So the proponents thought $25,000 on a debit card every school year would be a fair proposition. The bill also inlcuded requirements for standardized testing and “approved” materials.
When your private school begins to accept students with vouchers, that private school will come under the scrutiny of the state. There’s no way to avoid this. Cheerleaders for the faux “separation of church and state” will automatically call for state oversight and regulation for any education that involves religious materials. Even if only a portion of the school’s students pay tuition with state vouchers, the private school succumbs to public education law in the end. It has already happened. See this example from Pennsylvania or this one from Maryland or this messy case in California.
If a segment of the homeschool population began receiving vouchers to purchase homeschool curriculum or pay for extracurricular activities, the same thing will happen, and more. We live in a society that believes only degreed and certified teachers should educate children, and when the average mom or dad begins taking state money to teach their children at home, two things will happen: the state will have to approve curriculum choices and activities that it deems “qualified” or “accredited, and the homeschooling parents who did not take the funds will fall under the same scrutiny.
In the end (and it could happen immediately or take years) private schools and homeschooling parents will be reduced to using state-approved curriculum. They will all essentially be public schools, just in different locations.
“Policy makers have wrongly concluded that homeschooling is about location. Instead of accepting responsibility for the many failing public schools and fixing them; the state wants to expand its influence (oversight/regulation) over private and home-schools already doing well. They seem to believe that if they send children home to do the same curriculum being done at public schools the results will be different. Nothing could be further from the truth. Homeschooling has never been about location. Homeschooling is about the parent/child relationship, discipline, and thinking outside of the box. The end result is a custom education.” (David Covey, Facebook, 2017)
This is especially problematic for home education. In many states, including Texas, homeschoolers have few guidelines and no regulation. That’s a good thing! This allows the ultimate freedom for parents to tailor a program that fits their family dynamic. What most people outside the homeschool world don’t know is that there is an entire industry of curriculum created just for homeschooling, and the variety is amazing. There is something for literally everyone, and none of it is regulated by the state.
A family with a special need will have multiple options for every school subject. A family on one income (which most home educators are) has an amazing array of low-cost curricula to choose from. Every subject is available in a variety of formats, like video, textbook, online, or a mix of many. Additionally, tutors and cooperatives allow for outside classes and teachers that provide classroom experiences for a difficult subject or just for the change of scenery.
Home education is a popular choice for parents who cannot afford pricey private school tuition. This option must be protected from government intrusion at all costs.
Think about what you’re asking for
State oversight at your kitchen table should scare everyone. That’s what school choice legislation is all about. The thousands of dollars handed to you on a debit card may be very attractive, but there will always be a string at the end of that carrot.
Tiffany Boyd, a Tennessee homeschooling parent and activist reminds us: ‘The chairman of the Communist Party, U.S.A., 1932, William Foster, in his book Toward a Soviet America, called for a U.S. Department of Education, the teaching of evolution, elimination of nationalism and religion in schools, the teaching of internationalism, and for the use of the Pavlovian method (direct instruction) on the students,’ Isbert write in her book The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America. ‘School choice is a Trojan horse. The only requirement left to implement school choice is tuition tax credits or vouchers which will take over the private sector. If those choice proposals do not fly in legislatures or in Congress, federally funded charter schools will be used, as is already the case in many states, to implement the school-to-work planned economic system.’ She went on to warn that the choice proposals being recommended by most state governments will ultimately destroy all forms of public education: public, homeschool, private, and religious.”
Betsy DeVos, former Secretary of Education, admitted that “school choice” will indeed put all forms of education under the public education umbrella. “Let’s stop and rethink the definition of public education,” she said. “Today it is often defined as one type of school funded by taxpayers, controlled by government. But, if every student is part of the public, then every way and every place a student learns is ultimately of benefit to the public,” DeVos continued. “That should be the new definition of public education.” (Freedom Project)
The problems are everywhere. The state and the taxpayers want accountability (which is good). But do you want to be accountable to the state and the taxpayers for how you raise your children? 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.
It’s a Republican Thing
Here’s where it gets tricky for conservatives. School choice legislation is most often pushed by Republicans, and rejected by Democrats and most public school supporters. That puts conservatives who want freedom in a very misunderstood place! The roots of school choice are deeply red. But the idea is still big-government.
Instead of finding ways to spread tax dollars around “fairly,” we should be advocating for less taxation and fewer government programs over all. We should advocate for true education freedom.
Government doesn’t give us choices. It limits them.