Monday, April 04, 2022

Why homeschoolers across the country are wary of the snare of "school choice" funding

State Senate President Greg Treat continues to press for passage of his school choice measure, Senate Bill 1647, the Oklahoma Empowerment Act, in spite of it failing on the Senate floor. SB 1647 (see more posts here) would give eligible students approved to participate in the Oklahoma Empowerment Account Program state aid to access educational services. Eligible students not participating in the public school system would have a government account with $3,500 to over $17,000 in annual deposits to use for qualified education expenses.

Some of the strongest opposition Treat's bill received has come from the homeschooling community. Treat and his school choice allies seem to have been blindsided by this, which is remarkable given that homeschool advocates have been extremely consistent over the years on the issue of directing state funds or public school activities to homeschoolers. This was entirely predictable.

The aftermath has been ugly, as the school choice lobby has turned on homeschoolers with some vindictive and visceral attacks.

I wanted to do another article with views from the homeschool community to demonstrate why we oppose measures like Treat's, so here we go. This will be a bit lengthy, but it's important, and it's vital for legislators to understand for the future. 

Oklahoma is not the only state going through this fad. Further down, I'll cover a little bit from Alabama and Utah, just two states with similar measures working through their state legislatures.

While SB 1647 did fail on the Senate floor, Treat vows that the measure is not dead. He intends to find some way to revive it this year, setting up for a spat with the State House, where Speaker Charles McCall has said the measure is dead on arrival and will not receive a hearing. It is likely that Treat will hold some House measure(s) hostage, with the ransom price being a bill along the lines of his SB 1647.

I've posted numerous times with the homeschool perspective on this and related measures:
Oklahoma is the most free state in the union when it comes to home education freedoms, and as such those of us in the homeschool community have jealously guarded against the government nose coming under the tent.

Homeschoolers in Oklahoma have traditionally been extremely wary when faced with proposed measures that would direct tax dollars their way for education purposes, and for good reason. The freedom to home educate in this state is simply unparalleled in the entire nation. Generally speaking, where government funds go, government regulation follows.

The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) is probably the most important and influential home education organization in the country, advocating and defending homeschool rights since 1983. They continuously analyze state legislation and provide resources on state laws regarding homeschooling. Homeschoolers and state groups oftentimes lean on the legal expertise of HSLDA in examining legislation that could affect home education.

I reached out to HSLDA to get their take on Senate Bill 1647, and here is what one of their staff attorneys came back with:

Here is how I would like to summarize our concerns/comments with Senate Bill 1647:

Homeschooling in Oklahoma, described as providing “other means of education” in both state constitution and statute, has always been understood to be privately funded and parent directed. The concerns with Senate Bill 1647 is that the text of the bill says “nothing in this act shall be construed to require that an empowerment student be enrolled full time or part time in a private school or a nonpublic online school.” Since there is no clear distinction on how Oklahoma Empowerment Account Students would be classified under Oklahoma compulsory attendance law, the homeschool community wants to avoid any potential confusion as there will be regulation with how these public funds can be spent.

HSLDA doesn’t believe the homeschool community wants to prevent anyone from attempting to apply for an Oklahoma Empowerment Account. However, we do want to ensure that those who do apply are not considered to be educating their children at home. There have been numerous examples of publicly funded programs facing increased regulation of how the money can be spent. HSLDA does not object to that regulation, only that homeschool parents not be confused with those who choose to participate in these programs. Other states have created a specific compulsory school exemption for those who choose this option.  

I think the amendments to Senate Bill 1647 are only halfway to where the homeschool community would like them to be. But even then, HSLDA would likely be neutral on this program as we are generally opposed to government funding of education because it must, by its very nature, be regulated. Homeschooling as been so successful because it is parent directed and individually designed to meet the needs of the child and family.
HSLDA has furthermore put together a legislative action center alert on SB 1647, which reads as follows:
As some of you may know, there is a bill in the Oklahoma Senate that would create Oklahoma Empowerment Accounts to publicly fund private education. While parents who have considered transferring their children from public school to private school may find this proposal appealing, they should also recall that any publicly funded program must have state oversight.

As originally written, the money attached to Senate Bill 1647 could have ensnared parents providing other means of education—namely, homeschooling. 

Even though the bill has been amended in an attempt to prevent it from applying to homeschoolers, there is still confusion regarding the educational category that Oklahoma Empowerment Students would be in. We believe that students who receive funding from this program should be in a separate category, so it is clear under the law that they are separate and distinct from privately funded homeschool students. 

We believe this is necessary to avoid confusion, and possible regulation, in the future for families who desire to privately educate their children at home. 


Please contact your Oklahoma state senator and urge them to oppose Senate Bill 1647 as currently written. Let your senator know that you don’t want public funds for educating your children at home because you are aware that accepting government money will inevitably entail additional regulations. 

I also contacted Homeschool Oklahoma, the state's largest and most influential homeschool group, for their comments.
SB 1647, the Oklahoma Empowerment Act (OEA), is simply about “let the money follow the child” for school choice.  But it is equally as simple as “when you receive money from the State, it now has an interest in your child and by default becomes a co-parent”.

Homeschool Oklahoma, formerly known as OCHEC (, has been tracking education laws on home education in Oklahoma for over 35 years.  We also follow education laws in the other 50 states that affect home education.  We have seen many bills that want to put “Private” or “Other means of education (this is a State constitutional phrase)” under more State regulation.  We have also watched legislation like the OEA enacted in other states.  So why does HSOK oppose this bill and others like it?

Again, simply put, when the State gives you money to educate your child, they now have an interest in your child and how you spend that money.  That simple act of receiving the State’s money brings them in as a co-parent.  Don’t believe me?  Try taking the lead on how your public school teaches your child.  Will you, the parent, be permitted to determine their curriculum, their reading list, their hours of instruction, their style of education, the discussion (or lack of discussion) on current events, and how your faith or the faith of others may view personal and public events?  You will not.  This is also true of Private schools, except you are using your own money to pay for your child’s education.  If you don’t like what they are doing, you can use your financial influence to get your way or go elsewhere.  But if Private schools take the State’s money, the state will now have an interest in what and how a Private school teaches.  It looks like school choice, but now the government has intervened.  The OEA will establish the who, what, where, and how of the funds you use.  Be assured, the State’s choices will be tailored to political and statist ideals, not yours.

Currently, homeschooling, via the constitutional term “other means of education,” has been removed from OEA eligibility.  Why do we then continue to oppose it?  First, we believe parents should be able to make educational choices.  Second, when possible, those choices should be parent-directed and privately-funded.  And of course, we think the best place for most of the learning to happen is in the home.  But the OEA moves the line of State money and control from Public Schools only to now include Private Schools.  We believe this is a dangerous move for Private schools and for homeschoolers in the future.  Remember, the government mostly expands and rarely contracts.  It is logical (not fantastical) to believe that once Private schools take State money, then all students should take State money, and that would include those who provide “other means of education”.

So, if this bill passes and other bills expand its reach, we will have 1) a publicly-funded Public School system administered by the Department of Education, 2) publicly-funded Private Schools administered by the Legislature and Treasury Department, 3) privately-funded Private Schools administered by parents, 4) publicly-funded Home Educators administered by the Legislature and Treasury Department, and 5) privately-funded Home Educators directed by the parents.  We have seen this necessary division in other states and it is a mess we do not want.

-- Paul M Rose, Trustee and Board President
Oklahoma is not the only state being targeted by national school choice groups with legislation like SB 1647. Politics is all about fads and peer pressure, and this legislation is sweeping into legislative chambers across the nation. One such state is Alabama:
Government Funding for Homeschooling Has a High Cost
by Daniel Beasley, Esq. (February 17, 2022)

Eric Mackey, Alabama’s state superintendent of education, made this observation recently while sharing his concerns about a newly proposed Parent’s Choice Program that would funnel state education dollars from public schools to the private sector, including homeschools.

In his testimony before the Senate Education Policy Committee, Mackey argued that government funding requires government monitoring. And when he says accountability, we don’t have to guess at what he thinks is reasonable.

“I’m not calling for the accountability of homeschool,” he said, “but most states require homeschoolers to register with the state, and they do home visits. That’s the minimum that most states require.”

Setting the Record Straight

Well, he got one out of two points partially correct.

It is true that a majority of states require homeschoolers to file some kind of notification with either their state department of education or a local school district. But home visits? Nope.

No state in America requires a home visit to homeschool.

In fact, exactly every state that has previously attempted to enforce some kind of home visit requirement as a precondition to homeschooling has seen the requirement struck down by courts or abolished by lawmakers, amid constitutional concerns.

Still, Mackey’s intent was clear. He supports ramping up government regulations on homeschooling families if the government starts funding homeschool programs. This position is not entirely unreasonable. We expect government to ensure some level of accountability for programs funded by taxpayers, which is precisely why we do not advocate for the government funding of homeschooling.

At HSLDA, we advocate for homeschool policy that preserves liberty because freedom and flexibility are essential to the continued success of homeschooling. Government money, however, is not. In fact, it is the failure of the government-funded school system that has contributed to an increasing number of parents looking for alternative educational options outside the government-funded system.

Freedom is Still the Best Policy

Kids have been thriving through homeschooling for decades without government funding and oversight.

We can understand why school-choice proponents are seeking educational options for students whose only feasible choice is an underperforming school because the importance of education can hardly be overstated. But the solution for these students must not undermine the liberty of homeschool families who have been spending their own time and money to ensure their child receives a custom-tailored education at home.

What’s the solution? Preserve liberty while providing choice. Legislators who want to empower more choice in education should respect the freedom to homeschool and create policy proposals that ensure parents have the option to homeschool without government money flowing into homeschooling.

Specifically, we would like to see the introduction of tax credits that let homeschool parents keep more of their own hard-earned money.

Homeschooling parents and advocates in Alabama have been actively opposing the Parent’s Choice Program because it fails to preserve liberty. It makes no distinction between parent-directed, privately funded homeschooling and government-funded alternatives. But drafters of the Parent’s Choice Act have indicated a willingness to amend the bill to fix this flaw, though doing so is easier said than done, given the fact that homeschooling operates as a home program of a church or private school.

Hopefully, Alabama lawmakers will listen to their constituents and preserve homeschool freedom.
The Alabama Superintendent of Education had more to say:
[Alabama Superintendent of Education Eric] Mackey on Tuesday said he and the department of education weren’t consulted on the bill. But he met with [Senate Bill 140 author State Sen. Del] Marsh earlier in the week to ask for multiple changes to it, including an annual performance testing requirement for students outside of public schools.

He said Alabama has among the most lax homeschool regulations in the country. He said many parents do an excellent job educating their children. 

“But there may be people out there who are not really teaching anything to children and we don’t have any way of knowing that,” he said. “…If we include homeschool (in this bill), then we set up a mechanism so we at least have a registry of who those students are, what curriculum they are using — not choosing the curriculum for them, but a registry of what curriculum they’re using — and annual testing of homeschool students.

“… If they’re going to be getting over $5,000 per child in state funds, the state should at least have that information.”
Government funds will come with government strings, and homeschoolers in every state generally have the same response:
Alabama school choice bill runs into surprising opposition – homeschool parents

Architects of legislation that would allow parents to opt out of the public school system and take their tax dollars with them has run into a surprising group of opponents – homeschool parents.

State Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore), who is co-sponsoring the bill, said he did not expect that, considering homeschool families are among the intended beneficiaries.

“I was taken aback by the number and the degree of concern that they had,” he said.

The bill, which has cleared a Senate committee, would allow parents to set up education savings accounts funded with the money that the state would have spent on their children’s education. Based on the current budget, that would be $5,561 a year. Parents would be able to use the money for private school tuition, fees to other public schools and a wide variety of education-related expenses.

Mallory Carey, a homeschool parent from Mobile, said the money would be helpful, especially in getting services for her son who has Down Syndrome – services the public schools don’t provide.

But she told FOX10 News that she and other homeschool parents fear the loss of freedom that would come with taking the money. She pointed to an amendment that would require homeschool students to take standardized tests given to public school students.

“When you start introducing a standardized test, you then have to adapt your curriculum to make sure that the child then is standardized to the test. … Then we have to make sure that we teach to the test,” she said. “So you limit our curriculum.”


Carey said it can be a challenge for lawmakers to understand homeschool parents’ concerns.

“The bill was created without talking to any homeschooler,” she said. “They didn’t talk to any homeschool community at all until after the bill was written. … They’re starting to understand the homeschool community. But it is a hard battle to get them to understand because we are not the mold of what they know.”

Here's some more comments on the Alabama bill:

[Following pushback on his original bill], Marsh, R-Anniston, said he’s working on a substitute bill that would only apply to students entering kindergarten next year, phasing in a new class of students each year for 13 years.

The substitute bill would not apply to homeschool students. Lawmakers have gotten pushback from homeschool groups since Marsh last week amended the original bill to require annual student achievement testing of any student receiving the state funds.

“Some people can’t be helped,” Marsh said about criticism from homeschool advocates. “They see ghosts where there are no ghosts.”

Rep. Charlotte Meadows, R-Montgomery, on Monday said homeschool advocates were concerned about a “slippery slope” of government intervention into their programs.

Meadows is sponsoring the Parent’s Choice bill in the House.

Taking homeschool students out of the bill allows Marsh to put in the bill an accreditation requirement for all participating schools, he said.

He also said the testing requirement for private schools would be the same as that of the Alabama Accountability Act. Students using that tax credit scholarship program take yearly math and English tests.

Another interview:

Private Schools like Whitesburg Christian Academy would have to apply to a newly created Parent Choice Board to be a part of the program. Then parents who send their children there could receive thousands of dollars a year to pay for their tuition. “We have parents that can write a check, send their kids here. And they can afford it. They can afford to pay the taxes, they can afford to pay tuition, but there’s a lot of parents out there that cant do that,” Reeder said.

The same goes for parents of homeschooled children as well. However, they would only be able to use the funds on a board-approved curriculum. A fact the director of Hope Christian Academy, a church school for the homeschool community says is very concerning.

“The intent is clear that they want to help. I’m afraid that they don’t understand that additional restrictions and any kind of stricture will change the way we educate. I’m more likely to buy curriculum A from an authorized vendor if I can get it for free. So curriculum A is going to succeed. Curriculum B, which may not have been approved may be better for my child,” Gillon said.

Gillon is warning families with money comes more oversight and government control.

Utah had bill (HB 311) that failed in their State House in February that was very similar to Treat's SB 1647.

“Maybe it would be appropriate for us to say homeschoolers get some funding. Right? But there also needs to be accountability. Whenever the state gives out money we need to make sure that wherever it’s going there’s accountability,” [Republican State Rep. Marsha] Judkins said. “Do we put the some accountability on homeschool — on a private school, for example, that we put on our public schools? Or are we just giving them money?”

One of the primary motivations for homeschooling -- across the country, across levels of religious involvement, across all demographics -- is the ability for parents to direct the education of their children with as little outside input and interference as possible. 

For Christian parents, it's about following the biblical command to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4), training and instructing the next generation in accordance with godly living. For other parents, it's about custom tailoring education around their child's needs and/or talents.

Homeschool parents do not want to cede their freedom and direction over their children to the allegedly 'benevolent' hand of the government.

In Maryland, there was a legislative proposal earlier this year to collect data on homeschoolers:

Though the homeschool community in Maryland has continued to flourish for decades without the government’s help, Maryland Delegate Sheila Ruth recently proposed an “advisory council” that would watch over and collect data on homeschool families.
The proposal would essentially place homeschool parents under the watchful eye of a government agency, a situation most homeschool parents chose to avoid in the first place.
Bethany S. Mandel, a homeschool mom and writer in Maryland, exposed the bill’s contents on Twitter, calling on Ruth to withdraw it from consideration. Mandel suggests that the council could easily be leveraged to bully homeschool families, regardless of their stated purpose. In a message to the Daily Signal, Mandel wrote, “They’ll pass more restrictive rules on us and say, ‘It was suggested by homeschooling families themselves! We have a council!’ (That they chose.)”
The Home School Legal Defense Association shared a similar sentiment. The Virginia-based firm warned that the council’s formation was rife with opportunities for abuse and overreach. HSLDA said in an official statement: “Homeschooling has thrived for decades without government assistance. Instead of creating a new bureaucratic entity to gather information on the needs of homeschool programs, HSLDA encourages government entities and actors to respect homeschooling programs by preserving liberty and avoiding unnecessary regulation.”

Thanks to active opposition and lobbying by homeschoolers, the Maryland bill was killed

The more interaction that secular government has in families and their education choices or methods, the more opportunities for unwanted intrusion and interfence. The inexorable growth of government continues to seek new areas of conquest, and rarely recedes to restore freedoms.

This is why the homeschool community is so vigilant against even "friendly" efforts to "help".

As President Ronald Reagan once said, “The top 9 most terrifying words in the English Language are: I'm from the government, and I'm here to help.”


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