So what’s the problem with vouchers?

Betsy DeVos is now our new Secretary of Education.

H.R. 610 and vouchers for homeschools

Some say she is the most unqualified person to fill the position. She was certainly one of the most controversial. All because her vision of education includes options outside the public education system. In her view, charter schools, private schools and homeschooling are all viable alternatives and that is not a position the teacher’s unions are particularly happy with.

That sounds great for homeschoolers.

So why is this is difficult for me? I support freedom in education. I do, after all, homeschool. I think we need more options for families who are stuck in sub-standard schools thanks to their income level. Education is a path out of poverty, but our worst schools are in our poorest areas. Unfortunately, choice in education does not necessarily mean freedom in education.

But there is another problem. A more subtle one. And one that we need to deal with quickly because bill H.R. 610 has already been put before Congress. Namely, what does federal money mean to a private institution? What would it mean for homeschooling?

My first objection to this is simple. Why on earth do I need to give the federal government money in order to have it returned to me via a voucher? We have enough money to support our children. We have enough money to educate our children. To participate in co-op. To sign up for some extra-curricular activities. To send them to camp. We don’t need money from the government to do any of this. How much of my tax dollars are eaten up in the bureaucracy so that I can get a small amount back in the form of a voucher? Why not just let me keep my money to begin with? What is the real reason behind this carrot on a stick?

And that brings me to my second objection. Federal money is about control. Pure and simple. It may or may not begin that way, but in the end, accepting federal money means accepting federal control.

Consider President Bush’s faith-based initiatives. As Os Guinness writes in A Case for Civility (p. 51 – 52),

“…the project {faith-based initiatives] was self-defeating as a concept because the close relationship between government and faith-based groups almost inevitably leads, first to a growing dependency of the faith-based organization on the government, and, eventually, to the effective secularization of the faith-based group. In the words of David Kuo, President George W. Bush’s special assistant for faith-based initatives, ‘Between Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services alone, for example, more than $1.5 billion went to faith-based groups every year. But their activity had come at a spiritual cost. They were, as organizations, largely secular.'”

Or even just consider the title of the book David Kuo wrote after serving with President Bush’s faith-based initiatives: Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction. He did not come away from his service of these programs full of hope about what they could do for America. He came away with a warning about the spiritual cost of mixing federal funds with religious institutions.

In the beginning, the money looks nice. In the beginning, it doesn’t even seem like there are all that many strings. You have to report yourself to the government. That alone accounts for increased regulation in eleven states. The money you receive cannot exceed your actual cost of homeschooling, but how is that determined? Does that mean you then have to keep receipts and turn them in? And how long will it be before only approved curriculum will be accepted?

The law spells out that this money follows the student and is not a grant to the institution, most likely in an attempt to get around directly funding private, religious organizations. But how long will that hold up? Hillsdale College in Michigan received no federal funding directly, but because it accepted students who had federal grants, the Supreme Court ruled against them in an almost decade long battle with the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Because accepting a student who has federal money is the same as accepting federal money.

We already have models for what happens when private organizations take federal money. They become increasingly dependent on that money and, worse, they become more and more like government programs through the inevitable regulation that follows. And whether the money goes directly to the school or follows the student, we already have a Supreme Court ruling setting precedent for how much control that gives the government over the operations of otherwise private institutions.

Why would we want to accept that level of control? That’s why I believe we should keep the money out of homeschooling and keep homeschooling free.

And if you’re wondering why we can’t just refuse the money, I wrote more on that here: The Choices in Education Act: Why not just refuse the money?

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13 Responses

  1. Thanks! Let me know if you have any more thoughts. I don’t think any politician in their right mind would seek to ban homeschooling at this point, but I do see some seeking to increase controls and others trying to court homeschoolers with government money. Both end up the same, I’m afraid.

  2. This sums up EXACTLY what my issues are. Frankly, I don’t have a strong opinion on DeVos as SoE one way or another. I don’t trust the hype on either side, and I don’t have the time to do real research. But I am adamantly opposed to vouchers, i.e. government control, of homeschoolers.

  3. “I don’t trust the hype on either side. . . . ” Yeah, that is a significant problem recently. But you already know what I think of that. 🙂 I know Michigan homeschoolers ran up against her in Michigan, which concerned me.My real struggle is with this view that pretty much everyone in government seems to share that our problems can be solved by government action. Some things are better off just left alone. I want protections for my freedoms, not money. And certainly not increased regulation.

    1. It’s amusing to me how many people fail to realize that government is made up of people. Have they met people? Do they really want people controlling every aspect of their lives? Not me.

  4. Would homeschoolers be required to use the vouchers? Or could they just opt out altogether and not accept any money whatsoever to offset their costs of education (as is the case now)?

    1. For the moment, yes. But there are two problems with deciding to just not take the money rather than fight to have the language removed:

      1) The bill requires reporting whether or not you sign up. Eleven states currently require no registration and they will have to put a registration process in place, regardless of what their citizens want. No state currently has to turn this data over to the federal government and now all 50 states will.

      2) The “approved educational materials” will certainly fall in line with common core or whatever we end up calling our national standards. There is already heavy pressure to funnel everyone through the standards via exams and I firmly believe that not too long after the vouchers in place there will be no other options for any homeschool children wanting to go on to college but to take their exit exams which will affect how you have to teach your children.

  5. I agree; I’d rather the government kept my money and just left me to raise my children and homeschool them in peace. I’d love them to just keep their nose out of my business. Once they put vouchers in place they’ll start putting regulations in place and then we’ll have limited choices in materials and HOW we teach too.

  6. I am a public school educator who also homeschooled my children. The teachers’ unions are made of up classroom teachers. Classroom teachers that I know are not afraid of losing power, as is so often the accusation of unions. Teachers recognize that rather than leveling the playing field, school vouchers further tilt an already decidedly un-level playing field. Charter schools and private schools, who are allowed to have admission criteria, skim off the most affluent, most mobile, and otherwise most privileged students. Students with the most need and the most challenges remain in the public schools, who are committed to accepting all students. The gap widens, rather than narrows. Meanwhile, the private owners of charter schools, continue to profit. That support of profit is my biggest issue with Mrs. DeVos.

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