Whose responsibility is it to educate the children of the rising generation? The parents. That is the most local level—the family, the basic unit of civilization.
It is not the responsibility of the state, and certainly not of the nation. It is not even the responsibility of the school district. Letting those other levels grasp responsibility has caused the problems our schools are in.
Let’s start with making sure we're talking about the same thing. What is the finished product when we educate a child?
Aristotle says we educate a person to produce a great soul. That’s still pretty vague. Joe Harless, in his book The Eden Conspiracy, is a bit more specific. He says we are producing an accomplished citizen. We should teach the knowledge, skills, and information relevant to becoming accomplished members of society. The attributes of such a person include:
• Being obedient to the law.
• Making informed voting decisions.
• Contributing to stability.
• Resolving interpersonal conflict.
• Contributing to community improvement.
These are what an accomplished member of society does regardless of how that person makes a living.
Do we need to teach ways to make a living? Yes, but that is incidental. What we’re doing is providing the knowledge, skills, and information a good citizen will need in order to work out their own way to make a living that sustains themselves by making a contribution of worth to someone willing to pay for it.
So producing that civilized person, that contributing member of society, is the mission. That is the mission of the parents.
|Back in 2008 a bunch of us homeschoolers put on Shakespeare's|
A Midsummer Night's Dream, in a park. We did a Shakespear play annually.
But what options—parent choices—are available to do that? In theory, the choices today are wide open. Information is everywhere. Much of it is free. You could guide your child through a series of elementary through high school-level learning with resources available for free or very low cost. Excellent resources. Better than you got when you were a student.
You could even guide your child through college level learning through online mostly free resources. You can give them great opportunities for learning, if you and the child are willing to put in the effort. You can do everything but give them the college diploma.
In reality, however, there is a monopoly. It is the public school system, controlled by the teachers’ unions, which are about making money for the teachers’ unions, not about improving teaching for teachers, and certainly not for improving the education of students.
There are a couple of basic things in the way of breaking free from the monopoly: availability of the parent, and money. And they are related. If a family can make enough money while allowing at least one of the parents to be with the student, overseeing the education, then total homeschooling is an option. But it is very difficult to homeschool while committing an eight-hour day to an employer—even working from home. You can’t sit down to do math with your child while you’re writing a report for your boss.
And private school is expensive, while public school is “free.” It isn’t really “free,” though. That has always been a trap.
The providers of whatever is “free” always want something. In the case of schools, it is money and control—control of how your children are raised and what kind of citizen—or subject—they are formed into.
If we and those providers of “free” education were of the same mind, this wouldn’t be so bad. But we are not of the same mind. And that has become abundantly more clear in the past few years. Parents are waking up. They’re expressing their disapproval with what has been going on. And they’re being insistent that they are not abdicating their God-given role as decision-maker in the care and upbringing of their children.
We’re seeing that play out in school board meetings, in school board races, and in legislation.
And one big way we’re seeing it is in the debate over school choice.
|Stephanie Lambert, speaking at Cypress Texas Tea Party, March 16, 2023|
screenshot from here
Last week at our Tea Party meeting we heard from Stephanie Lambert, daughter of Tim Lambert, founder and head of Texas Home School Coalition, talking about their two prongs: educational choice and parental rights. And we got some interesting statistics concerning school choice, particularly Education Savings Accounts, or “the money follows the child”:
· There are currently 72 such programs in 32 states, some of them with long years of data we can look at.
· Whether in high-regulation or low-regulation states, these programs have not led to increased regulation.
o In fact, regulation for homeschooling has plummeted.
o In no state has regulation of homeschooling increased in the past two decades.
o Also, here in Texas we saw a three-fold increase in homeschooling since the pandemic shutdown.
· 71% of Texas homeschoolers support ESAs. Only 20% oppose.
So let’s take a look at that opposition. Last year, at the state GOP convention, testimony from these opponents of school choice lined up and took the public comment slots before the Platform Committee. They seemed a much stronger force than they actually are, and very nearly got the Committee to strike the language “money follows the child” from the platform plank. A good speech from a Committee member rescued it at the last moment.
I have noticed a fair amount of pressure from these opponents on social media sites where conservatives communicate. They’re forceful and insistent. I’ve collected some of the arguments to try to understand them and possibly express the choice side better.
One early clue was their accusation, “Look where the money is coming from.” They claim the choice side is funded by people who really want to gain control over homeschooling families. Since I’m one of these pro-choice people, and I know that my voice is independent and absolutely not connected to any money, that does not ring true.
And since I have been a member of THSC while homeschooling, and continue to follow them, particularly during the legislative session, I’m also aware that THSC is very grassroots, not a big money outfit, nor is it controlled by some nefarious higher elites. I have reason to trust them. So that first opponent argument doesn’t fly with me.
They linked to this article in the past week: “School Choice: Are We Willing to Sell Our Children for a Pittance?” by Tiffany Boyd, a Tennessee homeschooler opposed to school choice. This is from the article:
She [Charlotte Thompson Iserbyt, author of The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America] predicted that all types of “school choice” will eventually be tax-supported, with the tax money following each child.
“Each child, regardless of type of ‘choice’ education, will have an individual education plan (IEP). This will be determined by decisions made by the school/business partnerships (for which kind of workforce training they have determined your child’s intelligence/talents are best suited, for their own profit-seeking purposes). This is the failed communist/socialist job quota system from which millions of foreigners escaped. These immigrants, the backbone of our nation, made enormous sacrifices to come to the United States of America in order to enjoy the upward mobility guaranteed by our free (unplanned) economic system.”
I haven’t read the book quoted from, written originally in 1999. But we can look at this quote with some hindsight now—and the data we mentioned above. Do you know where you will have an individual education plan (IEP)? In a public school. Any student with a special need will have one. It isn’t determined by the parents, although the parents may be pressured to comply with the school’s plan.
You know where you don’t have one imposed by any outside entity? A homeschool. You, as a parent, plan or go by the seat of your pants as you see fit, and as seems to fit your particular child. Our family had a moderate amount of structure (I needed it, and so did the kids), but we bristled at anything beyond our plans being messed with by anyone. We got to decide everything—except these particular requirements: we had to teach reading, math, spelling, and good citizenship, all of which we were glad to do. I can attest that we did all of those things—and quite a lot more—better than the public schools we pulled them from when they were failing us.
My experiences are anecdotal. But the data about the various places that have implemented ESAs is telling: regulation of homeschooling plummets, and no increased regulation of homeschooling is even tried.
ESAs, by the way, are similar to a medical savings account. You get to choose the doctor and the service that you want. But the money can only be used for medical purposes. There are some purposes that might be excluded from your account—certain alternative therapies, for example—but you’re free to pay out-of-pocket for those extras. There isn’t a huge amount of oversight; you simply can’t use your HSA for a vacation (for your mental health, you claim) or something most people would see as quite a stretch to call it a medical service.
ESAs would be limited to educational purposes. But that can be a lot broader than tuition or textbooks. This is the point at which people worry, however. Someone makes the decision of whether a service applies or not. But, again, that hasn’t been a big issue with HSAs; they provide greater freedom, not less. And they are similar to a GI bill, which is used for any type of education, at any institution, including religious, that the veteran chooses to use it for.
Did I mention, ESAs can roll over the money to the following year, so there's incentive for the parents to find cost-effective resources. In some programs the leftover upon graduation can be used for college tuition.
Here’s another part of the article—about those evil, selfish parents who resent having to pay taxes for a school system that doesn’t serve them:
I often hear parents say, “It’s my money and I want it back.” My retort to that statement is, “What is more important to you, your freedom or your money? What is more important to you, your child or the money?”
That is usually met with the following: “I want freedom to choose.”
The truth is, parents already have the freedom to choose. They can choose public school, private school or home school. With school choice, you are simply choosing more of the same. It’s still the same system parents insist is failing, funded by government. The teachers are still all trained the same and the state controls the curriculum. So, what would they be choosing that is any different?
This is where the catch is: the choice shouldn’t be between two forms of public school, regular or private; and two forms of private school, high-tuition classrooms or homeschools. What a bogus limitation!
There was a video these opponents on social media linked to of how “school choice” ruined education in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. The hurricane had devasted entire areas, so many schools were literally wiped out. So they created a Recovery School District, which they claimed was completely free choice for all parents. Since there was no local school to choose, it allowed the parents to send their child to any other school they wanted. But the parents had plenty to complain about: the schools they wanted didn’t always have openings; the schools they wanted didn’t always provide transportation; they schools they wanted ended up being whatever they could scramble to get, of whatever quality, at whatever location. Some parents ended up sending each of their kids to a different school, with all the transportation and confusion that would entail. What these parents wanted to choose was a free school down the street that actually educated their child—like the parents had had growing up. But that wasn’t an option.
Let’s just point out that this wasn’t exactly putting the free market to work in education. It was a shoddy approach to dealing with a catastrophe.
|image found here|
What does real choice look like? How about if that ESA can go to multiple different approaches and places for each child. Maybe the local school has a good drama program—fine, put the student there for those hours. Maybe the local community college is a better fit for math. Maybe a nearby private school has a really good history teacher. Maybe private music lessons are worth using part of the allotment for. There could be online courses for special interests of the student. Part of the allotment could go to that.
Homeschoolers have been finding these sorts of combinations for decades. Before we moved to Texas—so, well before we homeschooled—we had homeschooling neighbors who sent their kids to an hour for one subject in one school district and an hour for another subject in the next school district over, and then did some other subjects at home. While there were more regulations for homeschoolers there than here in Texas, the schools themselves were actually more flexible. Here the public schools are all or nothing.
The image I've painted, with all those options, looks like it would be parent intensive, just providing transportation. Until you’ve got a student who drives and has a spare car, that’s true. But what if the local public school allowed private vendors to use their rooms, perhaps for a fee to cover maintenance costs, etc., and parents could have their child at the same general location all day, but with multiple educational opportunities there?
In an actual free market, where there’s a need, an entrepreneur steps in to fill it. Transportation between educational locations could become a thing. Maybe there could be an educational "mall," a general location with lots of options, and you can easily walk from one to another, like you walk from class to class on a college campus.
There seems to be a fear that, if you allow any money to go beyond the current status quo public school, you’re harming public schools—and by extension putting the education of all children in jeopardy. Gasp! But is maintaining public schools—at the expense of the students they are failing—the ultimate goal?
Public schooling is a relatively new experiment. In 1910, when UIL was established for extracurricular competitions, private schools and homeschools were the norm, the vast majority, while public schools covered only a relatively small percentage of children. By the 1940s, compulsory education laws were put in place, not for improving education, but for controlling thought, using a uniform factory model.
Since public schools have already failed, I would indeed like to see public schools as we know them done away with. But that does not mean I want there to be no teachers or opportunities for educating our next generation. I want ALL the choices to be available to ALL the children. The only ones stuck in the monopoly then would be those whose parents won’t take responsibility for even the decision-making.
Some of the opportunities, of course, are going to depend on location. In Houston, we can find plenty of resources. In a small town with one public school and no private school, choice might need to include options that homeschoolers do and have done for millennia: teach them yourself; combine with others to pay for a private school, or hire private tutors, which today includes access to the internet, so it’s pretty unlimited, depending on availability of the parents and some common technology.
Educating our children will require a new way of thinking. Public schooling as it is done now has failed to meet the mission and has subjected kids to indoctrination of things parents absolutely oppose. ESAs might not be the final solution. I think a fully free-market education, with scholarships provided by local businesses (and maybe willing taxpayers) could do an even better job. But ESAs would be a step toward injecting actual free market choice into schooling.
And we know what we get from a real free market: better quality at lower cost.
Legislation This Session
Legislation This Session
Texas Senate Committee on Education, March 22, 2023
screenshot from here
This legislative session in Texas, we have a number of bills trying to protect children, regain parental rights, and allow school choice. There are two I’m looking at: SB 8, Bettencourt, Creighton, et al (including Middleton); and SB 176, Middleton (with Bettencourt as a co-author). Both bills are long and attempt to accomplish a lot. I trust both Senators Bettencourt and Middleton; both have a record of being pro-school choice. Bettencourt is my state senator. Both bills do two main things: codify a Parents Bill of Rights and implement an ESA program. They are not, however, considered companion bills.
Friends tell me Senator Middleton and crew have spent 18 months carefully crafting the wording of their bill, SB 176. My friends were disappointed to have Bettencourt’s bill come in and seem to replace all their work. But I didn’t get from my friends any specific problems with SB 8. I’ve only just scanned both of them. SB 8 is 50+ pages, and SB 176 is around 36 pages. There may be very similar sections. The low bill number on SB 8 means it is a high priority and is more likely to see movement.
If you click on the bill numbers above, I’ve linked to the Bill History page for each. From there you can see what movement the bill has had so far, and you can click on Text to get the wording of the bill and any amendments that may come.
Public testimony was heard in committee for both bills on Wednesday, March 22, and both were left pending in committee. That means there will likely be another day of public hearings before they take a vote.
It will take more time for me to determine what to recommend or amend. But I do hope we get a bill passed here in Texas that will do what parents have been calling out for.