Marcia Clemmitt recently published an extensive report on homeschooling at CQ Researcher. In “Homeschooling: Do Parents Give Their Children a Good Education?,” Clemmitt, a “social policy researcher” and former high school teacher attempts to explain the economic impact of homeschooling in the United States:
Since public schools are allotted government dollars based on the number of pupils they enroll, districts where home schooling’s growth is greatest inevitably lose cash. Arizona’s Maricopa County school district, for example, had lost $34 million by the year 2000 because 7,526 students were being home-schooled.
While I do not doubt for a minute the propensity of government schools to “lose cash,” homeschooling is not to blame.
A report from The Heritage Foundation in 2009 found that just the opposite is true — homeschooling eases the burden on local public schools, saving them billions:
An additional benefit of homeschooling comes in the form of savings to taxpayers and school systems. Analysts have estimated that homeschooled students save American taxpayers and public schools between $4.4 billion and $9.9 billion annually. Other estimates are as high as $16 billion.
The argument that homeschoolers deprive public schools of tax money is based on the premise that each child represents a sum of money to which the school has an inherent right. When parents choose to educate their children outside the public school system, opponents of homeschooling say, those students are “robbing” districts of money to which they are entitled by virtue of the fact that the child happens to live in their district.
Instead of viewing education through the lens of a business model where a fee is charged for a service (it costs less to educate fewer students), public school loyalists instead believe that there should be an ever-growing (and nearly unlimited) pot of money directed at public education, regardless of the number of students they are required to educate. The economy of scale does not apply to public education. There is alway a new gymnasium to build, a football team that is bereft of uniforms, and most important, teachers in need of raises and enhancements to their Cadillac benefit plans. While public school supporters argue that the building must be heated and the light bill must be paid, regardless of the number of students attending school, the reality is that it’s teacher salaries and benefits that consume school budgets, not electricity. And although the American Association of School Administrators says school districts spend between 80 to 85 percent of their budgets on salaries and benefits, to hear the proponents of school levies talk, you would think that the majority of the budget is spent on high school athletics and busing.
While one can make the argument that fancy, modern school facilities improve property values, a version of Bastiat’s Broken Window Fallacy can also be applied here. Confiscating money from taxpayers to pay for schools has the unseen consequence of leaving them less money to spend in other areas of the economy, which can have a negative economic effect on the area and therefore, on property values.
The reality is — and this should be an important consideration in school spending — a top-of-the-line athletic facility has nothing to do with whether or not a child receives a good education. Neither does a brand new building or paying to keep the lights on in an old school with empty classrooms. The best predictors of a good educational outcome are socio-economic factors and parents who are engaged in the educational process. Those areas should be the focus of education reform — not worrying about whether or not homeschoolers are paying their fair share. Homeschoolers should not be blamed for budget shortfalls in public schools, and in particular, they should not be viewed as a lost income stream in the pipeline to fund public school teacher salaries and pension schemes.