School Choice Funding: finding clarity on a controversial issue
In January of this year, my youngest son and I flew to Washington D.C. to take part in a lobbying event held by HSLDA. Since 2020, the near doubling of homeschoolers nationwide, as well as in our great state of Wyoming, has caused homeschooling to move into the spotlight. An example of this is Elizabeth Bartholet’s call for a “presumptive ban on homeschooling” (in O’Donnell, May-June 2020) Because of this increased attention on homeschooling, HSLDA has revitalized HSLDA Action to help educate policymakers on issues of homeschooling freedom. One of the recent threats to homeschool freedom has come from the seemingly generous and benign words: School Choice.
To be fair, many legislators and school choice proponents believe that they are helping homeschool families by including them in public funding options like Educational Savings Accounts (ESA), vouchers and programs where the “money follows the child”. Additionally many homeschoolers would like to see some government money flow into their homeschools. On the surface it makes sense, right? Who couldn’t use more money?! We pay taxes and want to have compensation in our everyday lives and homeschool. The issue is the amount of regulation that we open ourselves up to. Those who control the money can also control how the money is used. Below is a summary of HSLDAs stance that we presented to our Rep Liz Cheney and John Barrasso.
The Bad Policies:
Educational Savings Accounts (ESA) and Money follows the Child- In an ESA the government collects the taxes and redistributes the money to school aged kids to be spent on government - approved educational expenses. This is NOT a true savings account where individuals place their own money in savings. Because there is no such thing as government funding that comes without strings attached, when the money flows through the government and back to the family there is an increased risk of our freedoms being compromised. How? The requirements to receive the money can have arbitrary stipulations and other states have seen these increase as time goes by. Examples include the requirement to submit to standardized testing, mandatory homeschool registration and/or home inspection, restrictions on the purchase of faith based materials, and increased reporting to the government just to name a few.
The Good Policies:
529 Savings accounts - a tax advantaged saving account where families can save for educational expenses. Currently, a 529 can be used for K-12 public and private school expenses but not for homeschool expenses- this is a discrimination that needs to be addressed
Tax Credits and Deductions-
Teacher Tax Deductions currently, eligible teachers are able to receive a tax deduction for a certain amount of school related expenses. However homeschool parents are NOT considered eligible teachers under current tax code - this can be addressed in Congress with bills such as the Home Educators are Teachers Act (H.R. 5284)
Tax Credits are a way to give families some of their money back to use as they see fit for educational expenses. For example, the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act would provide tax credit to those who donate to Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs) who help low-income families pursue non-public education alternatives.
It is important as election time rolls around and the legislature heads into session that we be informed on these issues and the rhetoric that surrounds school choice. Educate yourself and reach out to your legislator and establish a friendly relationship so that they may understand your stance on school choice funding.