newsletter

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?