I have a homeschooling fantasy — my own little vision of civil disobedience to get critics to leave homeschoolers alone once and for all: “National Send Your Homeschooled Kid to School Day.”
Imagine what the first day of school would be like if the estimated two million homeschooled students showed up and said they wanted to enroll. While some schools could manage a few (or a dozen) new students suddenly needing teachers and classroom space, others would be overwhelmed with dozens of new students. If all those homeschoolers decided to remain enrolled, school districts across the country would certainly feel the strain, with many having to hire new teachers and some perhaps even needing to consider new buildings.
Homeschoolers are no strangers to complaints that removing their children from the public schools violates some sort of sacred trust that members of a civilized society owe to one another. Detractors argue that homeschoolers are somehow damaging the public schools by their absence.
Tony Jones, writing at Patheos, argues that Americans — Christians in particular — have a duty to send their children to public school for the good of society:
“So it seems to me that to withdraw my children from public education is to not play my (God-given) role as a missional member of society — like I can’t just choose to withhold my taxes.”
Jones compares the “good” of public education to polio vaccinations. Polio has been nearly eradicated only because nearly all Americans agreed to the vaccinations for the “good” of the rest of society.
“I don’t, as a Christian, have the option to “opt out” of the societal contract. Instead, I live under a mandate to be the most involved, missional societal participant that I can be.”
One school board member in Ohio fears that homeschooling could lead to Jim Crow-style economically segregated education:
“She said she saw grave inequality based on race in public schools in the southern U.S. in the 1970s under the ‘separate but equal’ motto. In 10 years, public education quality would be divided along economic, not racial, lines in the entire country ‘if somebody doesn’t stand up and voice their concerns.’”
Freddie DeBoer, in an anti-school voucher rant at Alternet, fears that the school choice movement is a vast right-wing conspiracy to “undermine all governmental and public structures.”
“Public education is a straightforwardly redistributive program; it’s a massive government venture; and it has been, recent concern trolling to the contrary, one of the most successful human endeavors of the last several hundred years. The rise of universal public education for all, though still not fully realized, represents one of the greatest improvements in human welfare in history. It’s no wonder that this is threatening to conservatives, particularly because teachers are heavily unionized and reliably Democratic.”
Alright, then. DeBoer is on to us. Many of us believe that “massive government ventures” and children are not natural allies. And the progressive promises of “improvements in human welfare” by “heavily unionized and reliably Democratic teachers” send a chill up our spine, so we have decided to opt out.
What these critics fail to understand is the great service homeschooling parents provide to the community by choosing to educate their children at home. A Heritage Foundation report on homeschooling estimated that based on the national average (2002) of $4934 per pupil expenditure on education, homeschoolers save American taxpayers billions:
“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.”
At today’s price of more than $10,000 per pupil in education spending (times two million homeschooled students) that bumps the potential savings up to $20 billion each year.
If those two million students suddenly enrolled in school, someone would have to foot the bill to educate them. The burden would shift from the parents, who now self-fund the education of their children (while continuing to pay federal, state, and local taxes to support the education of others in the community), to the taxpayers. While $20 billion is a drop in the national education bucket (Ohio alone spends $6.8 billion a year on education), most school districts perpetually run on razor-thin budgets, increasing class sizes, scaling back athletic teams, ending extracurricular activities, and even cutting school bus routes, forcing children to walk to school because of a lack of funding.
Conservatives should certainly appreciate that homeschoolers save the taxpayers a boatlaod of money. And our liberal and progressive friends and the “heavily unionized and reliably Democratic teachers” could perhaps view that savings as more wealth to spread around to everyone else. But regardless of your political point of view, you owe a debt of gratitude to homeschooling families for their selfless decision to pay their own way to educate their children, lessening the burden on everyone else in our society. Far from “undermining” the schools, homeschoolers may actually be helping them to survive in these difficult economic times.
So how about a little love (or maybe a thank you note) today to your neighborhood homeschooling family for the economic contributions they make that ultimately benefit our country?