Senator Tony Fulton is a conservative Republican running for legislature in Nebraska’s 29th district, covering a pretty conservative section of the capital city. He is also well-known around here because of his support of homeschoolers during LB1141, a bill introduced this year which would have required homeschoolers to submit to greater state oversight. This history isn’t viewed as favorably by his opponent, Susan Scott.
A few thoughts:
I’m sure many do. And I am sure that Ms. Scott was an excellent teacher who has a lot of experience to share. But according to the Nebraska State Education Association, “teachers did their homework” and endorsed Tony Fulton. So did the Nebraska Home Educators PAC. What gives? Perhaps it is possible to both support public education and the rights of parents to educate their children at home?
As an educator…
I have no problem with this section. She appears to be a fine teacher who I am sure would have a wonderful perspective to offer on education, especially since so much of her work was in special education. But I will say that being an excellent teacher does not necessarily qualify one for political office. I would like to know more about her suggestions in a mailer such as this, rather than a focus on a skewed view of the opponent’s stance. Perhaps this is just me, but it also appears as if she is attempting to imply an endorsement from the teacher’s union which she does not have.
Diverting needed money…
This section brings up two separate and completely unrelated topics and splices them together in such a way that I think it would be easy to get the wrong idea about what Senator Fulton actually believes and advocates. He did introduce a bill which would have diverted money from education to roads, as referenced in the small print (Lincoln Journal Star, “Redirect Funding to Roads”, 12/19/07). This had nothing to do with home education, but with one of those other issues facing the state…gas taxes and road construction.
Nebraska needs some revenue to cover the maintenance and construction of roads. We have a lot of space to cover and a small population base to share the costs. This year, the legislature voted to increase the gas tax, against the protest of the people. Other proposals have included additional taxes on trucks coming through the state whose destinations are not here in Nebraska. What Senator Fulton actually proposed was changing the distribution formula for the motor vehicle tax slightly to divert more funding to roads. The money has to come from somewhere, and somehow, taking it from the motor vehicle tax makes an odd sort of sense. The original formula gave 60% of the tax to local school districts whereas Fulton’s proposal would have given districts 55%.
Update: Senator Fulton sent me an email clarifying the redirection of funds. I’m still looking for a source, but in the meantime this is what he says in regards to funding education:
One interesting addendum regarding LB741: as I have proposed that mechanism to fund roads, I have also proposed holding schools harmless with General fund revenues. In this way, it is a type of tax shift.
Instead, he advocated for homeschooling…
He certainly supported us. Of course, as a homeschooler, I see his support of our right to direct the education of our own children as a tremendous positive. And this attack makes me a little more uncomfortable with Ms. Scott. But the article cited in her mailer is a little odd, and available online: Homeschoolers to hold rally at State Capitol. You will have to scroll down. It is actually a text box within an article which outlines the activites of the Nebraska Christian Home Educators’ annual Legislative Day where homeschoolers meet at the Capitol, learn about the legislative process and have the opportunity to speak with their senators for a few minutes. This year, it happened to fall right after the introduction of LB 1141 and was not organized in response to it, contrary to how the description reads (although some of the schedule was changed to give more time to speak with senators about the issue).
And Senator Fulton was part of the opening ceremonies. He undoubtedly demonstrated strong support for us, and has thus earned much loyalty from homeschoolers in his district and even beyond. However, his education policy, contrary to what the casual reading of Ms. Scott’s mailer might imply, does not divert funding from public education to support homeschooling.
And a note on homeschooling and funding…
Senator Schimek’s proposed bill to increase oversight of Nebraska homeschools would have cost Nebraska additional funds…funds it does not currently have and funds that would have likely come out of the education budget. After all, standardized testing is not free, nor are the certified teachers to oversee their administration or to go over the portfolios which were offered as an alternative.
Local school districts often speak of homeschooling as if it diverted funds away from education because funding formulas give them money based on attendance. However, we pay the same property and motor vehicle taxes as everyone else in the district. And it costs money to educate a child…money that is not spent on homeschoolers. According to the US Department of Education, we spend on average $4,934 per pupil for instruction. This does not include many of the expenditures which remain when a child does not attend school (such as the building, etc.). The district may not be getting our tax dollars directly as they would if our children attended public school, but the state has more money to distribute because of our choice.
In fact, the Heritage Foundation pulls together some different statistics on homeschooling to demonstrate just how much homeschooling saves American tax payers.
Given the Department of Education’s conservative estimate of 898,000 students who were educated entirely at home in 2003, the National Home Education Research Institute’s estimate of 2 million homeschool students, and the national average per pupil expenditure on instruction, homeschooling likely saves American taxpayers and public schools at least $4.4 billion to $9.9 billion in instruction costs each year. The Economic Benefits of Homeschooling.
In Connecticut, First Selectman Tom Marsh even proposed a $3,000 tax credit to homeschoolers in order to save the state money.
Support for homeschooling does not have to mean that public schools suffer. In fact, the mere existence of homeschooling provides the state more money to spend on education and a small amount of competition for the public schools. Across the United States, we see schools altering their programs and allowing for more flexibility and individualized solutions in an attempt to attract homeschoolers back in to the schools. This makes our public schools stronger, not weaker. And it gives more families more real opportunities to make sure their children are receiving an excellent education.
That is sound education policy which benefits all Nebraskans, not just one segment of the population.