”The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.”
– Proverbs 22:7
With me being the parent of a homeschool success story, it probably wouldn’t be too hard for you to figure out that I favor school choice, at least to some extent.
However, whether we would have accepted public funds for our daughter’s homeschooling might be a different story. Parents who choose to homeschool their kids or send them to private schools often don’t want the government involved in their children’s education. “Free” money usually comes with strings attached.
That doesn’t mean we couldn’t have used the money – 90 percent of the annual public school funding rate per student, which right now would be a little less than $7,000 – that the state will be offering (universally by 2025-26) through the Arkansas Children’s Educational Freedom Account Program, which will be part of the expansive Arkansas LEARNS Act when it is signed into law (probably next week).
There are a lot of expenses for homeschool parents that public school parents don’t have to pay (and it’s even worse for private school parents), and while it may be our choice to use an alternative education approach for our kids, it isn’t because we’re all rolling in dough.
When we first started homeschooling, it kind of irked me that some of the property tax that we had to pay was going to schools that we didn’t use. That didn’t seem fair. We needed that money (and more) for homeschool books and supplies, but managed to scrape by.
Of course, we never wanted to not support the Beebe School District because we didn’t have anything against it. In fact, our daughter enrolled in choir while being homeschooled under our state’s version of the “Tim Tebow” law, which allows homeschooled students to participate in extracurricular activities at public schools.
Our reasons for homeschooling had nothing to do the quality of education our daughter was receiving in Beebe. It was far from being a bad school district, and she had teachers and administrators when she was in primary and elementary school whom we absolutely loved. (And she is fond of them to this day.)
We chose to homeschool not because it was something that we could easily afford to do, but because it was something we felt we needed to do. We wanted our daughter to have an education that looked at the world through a creation lens while public schools are allowed to only teach an evolution worldview instead of at least both theories.
We also felt like some of the language and behavior of kids at the point we removed her was not appropriate for that age (or really any age for that matter).
In addition, my wife was a stay-at-home mom with a college degree in education, so we felt we were better equipped than many for the challenges of running the Watts School for Exceptional Children. (That’s not what we called it, but I kind of wish we did now.)
We wanted to give our daughter the education she needed while controlling the environment. However, we also didn’t want to completely remove her from the social experience of public school, which is why we let her enroll in choir.
Because we wanted to make sure we were giving her a good education, we would have welcomed the assessment testing that will be part of the educational freedom account program. She had to take assessment tests for several years as a homeschooler, but they weren’t the same tests as those given in the public schools, so we couldn’t really compare her to her peers to see how we were doing.
The fact that she got accepted into the honors college at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway and is set to graduate summa cum laude in May tells me that we did a pretty good job. (OK, my wife and daughter did a pretty good job. I was just the temporary PE coach, and a pretty lousy one at that.)
We feel like we made the choices that were best for our daughter’s education at a time when homeschooling was just starting to gain wider acceptance. There were still challenges with finding curricula (some of which my wife created or tweaked), testing, expenses and other aspects that may be easier now or could be made easier.
I’m all for making education easier in every situation. And if Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ push for school choice helps with that, parents who decide on homeschool or private school for their kids could be better off for it. However, they need to take a close look at what the government wants in exchange for a helping hand. Sometimes the help isn’t worth the cost.
The hesitation of parents and private schools to be beholden to the government likely will be the reason, or at least one of them, why school choice won’t be “the death knell” of public education that state Rep. Jim Wooten claimed “vouchers” would be Monday.
Rep. Les Eaves and state Sen. Jonathan Dismang said they don’t believe there will be a mass public school exodus, and neither do I, because parents who choose homeschooling or private schooling may be proud of our success stories, but we also understand the sacrifices it takes to achieve them.
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