Even though homeschooling families stand to gain from a proposed new law designed to distribute Federal funds for elementary and secondary education in the form of vouchers, this same bill could pose problems down the road.
William A. Estrada, Esq., director of Federal Relations at the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), explains that a bill known as H.R. 610, which has been introduced in the House of Representatives, calls for sending all federal education dollars directly to states in the form of federal grants so that state can distribute the money as vouchers to public, private, and homeschool students.
While this sounds great, Estrada is warning homeschooling families that government money always leads to government control – something that might not work out so well if an administration opposing school choice comes to power in the U.S. in the future.
“If the bill only applied to public schools and traditional brick-and-mortar private schools, HSLDA would take no official position on it,” Estrada writes. “There is no question that many millions of children are stuck in public schools that fail to meet their needs, and school choice would be an incredible benefit to them.”
However, including homeschooling in the bill could become a “slippery slope” toward more federal involvement and control of homeschooling.
For example, the bill creates a “federal right to homeschool.”
“While this sounds good, HSLDA has fought — successfully—for decades to make sure that there is no ‘federal right to homeschool’ because what could be created by a favorable Congress could be regulated by a future, hostile Congress,” Estrada explains.
“It is far better (and far more constitutionally sound) for education decisions—and homeschool freedom—to be protected at the state level. We ask our friends at the federal level to simply leave homeschooling families alone.”
The bill also requires states to track eligible students in their state as far as who is attending public school, private school, or who is being homeschools. This tracking is ordered to be done on an annual basis.
“There is only one way that states and school districts can do this: by requiring homeschooling families to register with them, and be tracked by the school district,” Estrada continues. “This will be especially problematic in states that do not require homeschooling families to file a notice of intent with the local school district. H.R. 610 will require homeschooling families in all 50 states to register with the local school district. This would be just the first cost of ‘free government money’.”
Another provision gives the government the right to decide how much parents should spend on homeschooling by requiring that federal education vouchers to parents who choose a homeschool “shall not exceed the cost of home-schooling the child.”
Estrada asks: “Who will now decide how much it costs to homeschool a child? The government.”
It also requires that vouchers “be distributed in a manner so as to ensure that such payments will be used for appropriate educational expenses” but does not define what it means by “appropriate.”
In other words, “government officials and public schools will decide what qualifies as an appropriate educational expense,” Estrada explains.
“HSLDA has heard over the course of 33 years from numerous parents who have elected to teach their children at home through a government-funded virtual or correspondence school. In their experience, they found their curriculum options shrunk as each choice had to pass a government litmus test.”
The HSDLA has contacted Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), a co-sponsor of the bill, and expressed concerns about how the bill would impact homeschool families and why homeschools should be left out of the bill.
“I understand the concerns of the homeschool community,” Franks responded. “My support for the bill only extends to vouchers for public school and private school students. If this bill moves forward, I would request that any language that would impose vouchers upon homeschools is taken out.”
HSLDA is asking homeschooling families to call their representatives and ask them to oppose H.R. 610.
“On principle, homeschooling has succeeded as a movement in part by being different. Unlike typical constituencies asking for our piece of the public-money pie, we have simply asked the federal government to leave us alone. This has fostered one of the most dynamic social movements of our lifetime,” Estrada writes.
The spirit of self-government at the heart of private homeschooling has led to a vibrant social network of small groups and statewide groups who depend on each other—not on the government. The homeschool movement has been a better idea because we built it ourselves.”
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