a tax break for homeschoolers?

I'm slow and a bit late but its still out there. A discussion up at the NYT on whether or not homeschoolers deserve a tax break. Anyway, I thought I'd go through some of the NYT stuff. Reading all the entries:

Susan B. Neuman calls the idea a scam against the public schools and will somehow destroy public education.  Many homeschoolers are not conservatives nor do they want to destroy public education.  She is also very down-to-earth about how a tax break would be implemented and the potential regulation of homeschoolers. And she has nice things to say about homeschoolers. 

Luis Huerta frames the rebate issue as a Republican issue and opposes that to the Democratic agenda and sets it all up in terms of two-party politics as a crafty plan of the opposing side ... and he's onto to it.  He links the Paul homeschooling tax credit to the Parental Rights Amendment and also to the UN Rights of the Child. He notes:
It would also craftily yield a flow of public revenues of up to $5,000 directly to families who choose to participate in an unregulated private home-schooling arena that would be potentially impervious to public accountability.
Is the family an unregulated arena, impervious to public accountability?  The family?  The Feds have deregulated multi-billion dollar industries that, say, pollute the entire Gulf of Mexico but they want to tighten up on families? He then rails against the plan and adds:  
The culture war incited by a group acting to protect its private interest must be diffused by the preservation of a common good advanced by a democratic schooling system that serves nearly 90 percent of school-age children, and promotes the diverse perspectives and beliefs of a pluralistic democracy. 
A democratic schooling system?  We do not have a democratic school system, inside or out.  Our schools have police and families are mandated to send their children at the penalty of jail.  Democracy?  Tell it to this woman.  


Children and families cannot choose what to study, they can't opt out of grading, they can't focus one year on a hands-on program, they can't switch classes, they can't get aftercare, before care, a different school, Saturday classes, evening classes, custom schedules, or even honest to God electives.  And homeschoolers are as diverse as any  group, something his last sentence would imply is not true. Huerta is a loyal party man and like most, in both parties, they have a good thing going: who cares about actually understanding or fixing things.  After all, Congress gets paid well and a Cadillac health plan whether they do a good job or not.  

Neal P. McCluskey of the Cato Institute reiterates the common idea that the government should get out of schools. I am never sure what this means exactly: which level of government, Federal, state or local? All of them?  The Feds?  The states?  What about all those billionaires running around creating, from 2000 - 2008, 2600+ schools in 45 states?    McCluskey states that homeschoolers don't want to pay for the schools but homeschoolers are not monolithic in their views and many homeschoolers are fine paying taxes for schools. 


McCluskey also states that citizens never vote on education issues and so, in a sense, fail to hold politicos accountable.  But it is citizens and families who have worked valiantly to change state, not Federal, compulsory attendance laws to allow homeschooling.  The many and varied citizens of the homeschooling movement have shown they are indeed capable of making change, I believe, because their families and kids really matter to them. I do agree that our current factory model of education and the compulsory attendance laws setup a guaranteed income stream for, take your pick, local bureaucrats, state bureaucrats, Federal bureaucrats, union bureaucrats,  or corporateers:  just about everyone and anyone but the family and the child/ren themselves are controlling what our children learn. I do think McCluskey is probably right that a tax break for homeschoolers would be imposed with strings.  

Bruce S. Cooper of Fordham University supports a tax break for logical reasons; he also is comfortable with homeschoolers with strong religious motivations. It is tempting but many homeschoolers are cynical that this would be done, as above, without strings:
First, home schoolers are forgoing the need for public school services that cost anywhere between $10,000 and $17,000 per pupil nationally, depending on the wealth of the district and the needs of the child. Thus, a $5,000 tax break on the federal income makes sense since these families are relieving costs for the local public school systems (i.e., fewer children to be served).
Second, this tax break would provide additional resources for parents better to home school their children. Educating a child at home costs money every year: for books, materials, equipment, trips to museums and theaters, as well as time costs for one of the parents to be a “stay-at-home” educator.
A third reason is support for religious rights. We are a better society for allowing citizens to join a church, mosque of synagogue of their choice. Many families enroll their children in religious schools (5.6 million do annually), so why not make it more possible for others to educated their children at home for religious reasons? A home schooling tax credit could be considered similar to a tax deduction for a charitable donation. This small tax break would show respect for the rights of families and the education practices they choose. 
So what's up with Stanford?  Just what is their issue? 

Chester E Finn and Rob Reich feel they should be in charge of education anywhere (not just plain old schools).  It is basic job security for educators and quants looking for revenue and growth opportunities in testing and measuring, seeking job growth on the backs of families and their children.  And that's a structural problem the schools have manufactured.

From a policy perspective, however, there’s not much difference between teaching kids at home and enrolling them in any of hundreds of “virtual charter schools” or district- or state-run alternatives like the Florida Virtual School. 
From a policy perspective there is an absolutely huge and essential difference and his inability to acknowledge it is of major concern. Families are not schools and attempting to regulate a family like it was  a school is a sign of complete institutional overreach.  The fundamental relationship of citizens and families to mass institutions, like schools, is on shaky ground when someone like Mr. Finn feels confident regulating families as if they were schools.  Just as so-called security agencies invade citizen privacy and corporations are considered people: the mass structure itself is becoming the threat to education, security and business.  And families, that social institution once highly regarded, are the ones paying for it all, homeschooling and virtual and all other schools as well. He concludes:
In return for the financial help, however, home-schooled students should be required to take state tests, just as they would do in regular school, charter school or virtual schools. And if they don’t pass those tests, either the subsidy vanishes or the kids must enroll in some sort of school with a decent academic track record.
Faced with that trade-off, some home schoolers will forgo the subsidy. Others will welcome it, and their children will benefit twice, both from the financial help and from the results-based accountability.
Remote testing geeks should not be able to invade a family and insist on state standards:  this is authoritarianism at the extreme.  As I write, another authoritarian regime stands on the brink in Egypt.  Institutions that overstep are a continuing problem as nation-states around the world attempt to ensure stable, democratic states.  

The only reason the family can be considered such a non-meaningful entity is in large part due to compulsory attendance laws.  Compulsory attendance laws specifically dis-empower parents from having meaningful input into schools.  Perhaps it was only meant for poor parents or for areas where child labor was a fact but whatever the intention, the effect of these laws has been to create institutions that do not relate to the family in any real way.  This is absolutely absurd:  it is akin to medicine without the patient on board, or food grown without caring for the soil, or government without citizen access. 

Accountability?  

Educational system employees create tests and programs, that many children fail, or redesigns that prove ill-considered and these people are still paid their salaries.  Parents will deal with that child for its entire life.  Parents are more truly accountable by anyone's estimation.  

The ones who are truly unaccountable are educational quantsAgain, compulsory attendance laws have enabled these people to roam without boundaries spending huge amounts of money on giant system-wide plans with no accountability to the people whose children are the widgets on this assembly line.  

In fact, have you noticed how this word, accountability keeps coming up over and over?  Corporations buy off regulations and even write shareholders out of the mix, educational bureaucrats design endless innovations like the 1000-textbook on pre-algebra, not even algebra, Congress creates 1000-page omnibus bills that surely no one really comprehends, but all of these people have big concerns about all those homeschooling families out there, giving up a second income, playing math games or reading aloud -- these families need to be more accountable?  It's funny, that.

But there's more out of Stanford.  Reich has these comments:
I see no problem with a federal tax credit. But a tax credit for home schooling should not be offered without a requirement that home-schooled families accept some oversight. Less oversight than is required in public schools, but enough oversight to be sure that home schooled students are actually learning something. ...
Want a tax credit to home school? Accept a requirement to register your child as being home schooled and that the child take the same state tests as other public school students. Federal dollars come with strings attached, and these particular strings are in the best interests of children, anyway. 
The invasive arrogance of these statements is quite amazing.  As if the schools don't have enough issues, Mr. Reich wants them to take on homeschoolers, who save the taxpayers money (see above)  and in that way help local school systems, many of which are struggling in states facing deficits.  Perhaps Mr. Reich also wants the EPA to do spot checks of American homes. Perhaps we can have the DOT patrol private roads on private land to see that owners are obeying road regulations, for their own safety, of course. Or perhaps we can have OSHA inspect homemakers who make crafts to sell on Etsy. 

A tax credit is not a gift from the federal government of money they have earned somewhere independently: it is money we have paid in taxes credited back to us.  We are already saving our fellow taxpayers money.  Tax credits do not necessarily require any strings at all, not if good governance is something we are trying to do.  I get a deduction for having children.  My children don't have to be well-behaved.

Universities do not have to show performance data at this time.  Do Mr. Reich's students perform at an acceptable rate?  In his mania to ensure measurement, perhaps he can put his own data online before he threatens homeschoolers across the country,  a community comprised of grassroots citizens of all political viewpoints, who have worked tirelessly for 40 years now to enable homeschooling to become a viable option for families.

HSLDA's Estrada has a workable plan it seems to me but it is not a rebate solely for homeschoolers, the way I read it. And if I am reading it right, then the title of the entire debate is incorrect as it would not be a tax break solely for homeschoolers.  Estrada's stated tax credit would be for all parents, including public school parents. That's a good way to go about it as homeschoolers are then allied with other parents.  

Public school parents are now paying large amounts for a so-called free education and in a compulsory attendance system, there is no structural accountability whereby parents can really control these costs. (The vote for a school board member is pretty meaningless given all the laws that require attendance, empower a police force, and start planning how to fill 12+ years of time with stuff to do. ) So even, or perhaps especially, in poorer districts, fees charged in so-called free public schools are quite steep and growing. 

But would parents only get the tax credit if their child got a good grade or passed a test? Lawmakers are often tempted by these types of micro-management and ineffective, behavioral-based punitive approaches. So who knows if this tax break would survive the legislative process?  (And we'll never know what was not put up for discussion by the NYT. )

Strategically, I am sure it is best to stay out of this and protect the homeschooling freedoms already established, as the Kaseman's, wise guides for many years now, discuss in their post about the increasing privatization of schools over at Home Education Magazine. The Kasemans are from Wisconsin, the state that has shared their gift of spirited fight back and given many hope. 


This increasing privatization is the result of corporateers grabbing the guaranteed income stream, even easier to do now that there is remote control of schools (through testing and standards) and all of it is a direct result of compulsory attendance laws that disenfranchise families and empower a hierarchy of officials.  

But tax breaks are small potatoes, really, next to what we could have. The only reason we are facing increasing privatization is because the so-called public schools are not really public.  Parents and families have little access or control. Do we really have to run our schools on the Prussian model? Want to innovate and move out of the 19th-century factory mold?

How about we move toward voluntary, community learning centers that provide humane learning services to citizens in a democracy?  Schools that actually ask families what they want and need every year, schools that are oriented toward children and their families instead upward toward a central structure.  We'd have the places filled to the brim everyday, nights and weekends, by choice and not by police.  






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