Chris HillNC Justice Center
March 18, 2013
If anyone should know about the desperate need from more resources and support for public education in North Carolina, you would think it would have to be current or former school board members. Having seen and grappled with the challenges that confront our overworked and underpaid teachers, counselors, librarians, administrators and other educators up close and personal on a regular basis, these individuals would, presumably, “get it” that siphoning off even more funds from public schools is a disastrous prescription.
Unfortunately, some such folks seem to have looked right past this obvious reality. Right now for instance, lawmakers in the North Carolina General Assembly (including some former school board members) are actively sponsoring bills that would drain money from public schools.
These destructive proposals include: House Bill 144, which provides tax credits for families that home school their children House Bill 230, which amends the definition of a home school. Both bills have the effect of draining needed resources from public schools in order to give money to educational entities with little accountability.
House Bill 144 provides $1,250 per semester to home school parents. There are about 80,000 students who are home schooled in this state. If each student receives $2,500 per year, the state will lose $200 million. In a time in which the General Assembly seems to be satisfied that North Carolina ranks 48th in the nation in per pupil spending, sponsors of this bill are apparently more than willing to allow this situation to degrade further.
Worse, House Bill 144 does not require parents that receive the tax credits to spend the money on education related expenses. As a practical matter, there would be nothing to stop a home schooling family from buying a large flat-screen television or making a down payment on a new car. Public schools have to be accountable for every penny that they spend. For members of the General Assembly, particularly former school board members, to take valuable resources from public schools and give money to people who do not have to account for it is makes no financial sense.
While home school students are required to take national standardized tests, there is no requirement that the student achieve any particular score. In other words, the $2,500 per year would go to people who do not have to show any academic growth or success. In an educational climate in which our legislature is constantly considering paying teachers for “performance” (i.e. based on student success on standardized tests) it seems downright surreal that lawmakers would provide money to parents who have no accountability whatsoever.
As if the minimal accountability for academic growth in home schools was not low enough, House Bill 230 amends the definition of home schools. Currently, the Department of Administration Division of Non-Public Education regulates home schools. House Bill 230 states that parents will “determine the scope and sequence of academic instruction.” Put bluntly, it seems as if the intent of the bill is to make schools that are already largely unaccountable even less so.
And while parents determining the specifics of what their children learn in home schools is obviously an accepted and established concept, the idea that they will have a complete carte blanche takes things to a new and problematic level. Add to this is the notion that we would be willing to starve our public schools of resources while providing tax credits to people who will have absolutely no responsibility to the taxpayers who would foot the bill and the proposal borders on the absurd.
These home school bills are supposed to provide educational “choice” for parents, particularly low-income parents whom, it is claimed, could benefit from more educational options. The proposed tax credit, however, is too small to be of any real assistance for low-income parents. If the legislators really wanted to help low-income parents, it would try to fund schools so that North Carolina would not be 48th in per pupil spending and 46th in teacher pay.
These proposals, sadly, are just two of the thousand cuts planned to create private schools with public money – a plan that will help for-profit corporations take funding from public schools under the guise of “choice.” Providing money to home school parents may seem at first blush like a harmless endeavor, but when it is combined with plans to provide vouchers by calling them “scholarship grants” and to drain off off millions of dollars to for-profit corporations running charter schools, the danger becomes obvious.
It’s especially sad that this process is being abetted by people who should know better.
Hill is the Director of the Education and Law Project at the North Carolina Justice Center.