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Why School Choice Is a Trap: Don’t Take the Cheese
BY TIFFANY BOYD
“School choice” is a term that many conservative politicians have adopted as one of their main platforms.
It is concerning that parties touting the importance of freedom and small government are championing a program that is the very epitome of government overreach.
For many, school choice does not mean what they think it means. We already have school choice. Parents have the option to send their children to public or private schools, or they can opt to home-school them.
What school choice really means is government funds allocated to families to spend on education. The irony in this is that the very politicians who say they want less government are in support of a program that always results in government oversight, regulations and mandates.
As the founder of a local Middle Tennessee home-school support group, I have seen a large number of families move into our area to escape school choice states. Here’s what some of them have to say about their experiences with school choice:
“We just came from California. We home-schooled privately through a charter. So, I did all the home-schooling, but we got a lot of funding for kids’ classes and activities. But it did come with strings. You are right. A teacher came every 20 school days to check in and collect samples. We were blessed with a good one, but many are not. I’m thankful to not be in that system anymore. The money wasn’t worth it.” – Emily Arrington.
“I’m also from California (we just bought a house in Tennessee). I’ve been home-schooling under a California charter for four years now. When we started, it seemed downright magical. I can teach my kid what I want and they will pay for it?! Win! My kid can take gymnastics and horseback riding and they pay for it?! Jackpot! It came with some strings, but they seemed very minimal. A teacher visited every 20 or so days to see how we were doing and offer resources—this felt like a win. As a new home-schooling mom, I appreciated the oversight and support. My ‘teacher’ has been a huge blessing to us. My daughter is on an Individualized Education Program and getting those services for free has been amazing. But, each year things have gotten a little stricter. It went from ‘just show us a sample in each subject’ to ‘we need to see all their work for the learning period to make sure adequate learning is taking place.’ Then it turned into ‘we need the next two learning period lesson plans laid out for every subject so we can ensure you are completing everything.’ I’m a super-organized home-schooling mama, so at first this seemed fine. I even took it as ‘well, some of these moms need to get it together and have a better game plan’ (sorry mamas, I was a jerk). But then I started to see the major shifts that had been quietly taking place. There was no longer room for days where we learned by doing. There were no longer opportunities to learn through life and through being immersed in experience. Creating a natural lifelong learner was taking a back seat to predetermined curricula and deadlines. If you took an opportunity to explore and step away from the books, you found yourself having to make up for it. They added things like a mandated sex education program that public schools are taught (it is disgusting in California). You can sign an exemption to get out of it just like you can exempt from state testing and immunizations, but you now carry a file with a big old bullseye saying you have exempted your child from these mandated things. That’s a big no-no in this insanely governed state. The money may seem tempting, the support may seem great, but I’ve watched the purse strings tighten, and with it, the expectations heighten and the ‘choice’ slips away. All this to say: sometimes the grass looks greener; it’s just because of all the manure it’s planted in.”
– Salina Kelley.
“I grew up in Alaska, which has some of the freest laws when it comes to home schooling. You literally just had to make sure your children received an education. No reporting of any sort was required. However, a government-funded charter school option came along, and we saw so many free home-school families give that up in exchange for paid computers and school books. It was one of the worst things to happen to the home-school community there and took a big toll. There were definitely strings attached. One huge catch was the charter schools wouldn’t pay for any specifically Christian materials. We ran a small home-school bookstore and had a front row seat to how this affected people’s curriculum choices. Suddenly, if it wasn’t covered by the charter school, they wouldn’t buy it, or would lament that they had to pay for it themselves. Even the handwriting program we carried then had the word ‘God’ in the title, and I remember that being an issue. It was so distressing to see full freedom in their children’s education laid down for government control and money.” – Jen McBride
Before you think that school choice only negatively affects home schools, it’s important to note that any private school accepting government funds also becomes a target. Read legislation for voucher programs and you will see the words “approved curriculum.” If the school takes the money, the government can dictate what they are allowed to teach. If a politician tells you they will allow an “opt out,” don’t fall for it. Wording is easily amended.
The bottom line is “what the government funds, it runs.” Money never comes without strings. Don’t take the cheese.
About the Author
Tiffany Boyd is the founder of Free YOUR Children, a homeschool advocate, consultant, speaker and the founder and administrator of Middle Tennessee Christian Homeschool Connection. She holds a B.S. degree in interdisciplinary studies from MTSU. She is a wife of 30 years and mother to five children, grandmother to two. She is a former tenured public school teacher. She and her husband have home educated for 18 years. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.