“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”– George Orwell, 1984
As is so often the case in politics, pundits and activists give friendly sounding names to hot-button political movements to mask the true character of these matters. Abortion advocates are labeled “pro-choice.” Genital mutilation becomes “gender affirming care.” Illegal aliens become “undocumented workers.” Women become “birthing persons.”
This is certainly the case with the “school choice” issue. At the most basic level, the term “school choice” substitutes the concept of choice (options, opportunity) for the true focus of the movement, government education funding. School choice programs take on many forms – public charter school programs and virtual charter programs, magnet schools, intra-district transfer programs, school vouchers, education savings accounts and tax-credit education savings accounts (ESAs), tax-credit scholarships, individual tuition tax credits and deductions. The unifying thread that ties all of these programs together is the “public money” that is being distributed under each program.
It is important to note that homeschooling and private schools are usually included in the school choice conversation, but the references to homeschooling and private schools always devolve to a discussion of how these programs will include or exclude homeschooled and private schooled students in the distribution of these funds.
School choice advocates, who are actually advocating that our tax dollars should be given to individuals for the funding of private and (sometimes) home education, want taxpayers and voters to believe that these measures increase choice (educational opportunities) for families. While it is a subtle distinction, it is critical to understand that government funding has no bearing on actual educational choice.
I recently had an exchange with school choice lobbyist, Corey DeAngelis, on Facebook and I was, once again, convinced I needed to explain why I am so strongly opposed to the school choice movement and believe it is an existential danger to homeschool — in spite of pleasant sounding catchphrases like “fund students instead of systems” and “money follows the student,” all of which, like the “school choice” moniker, are used to lull parents into supporting big-government programs that will ultimately hurt every student.
Following our Facebook exchange, I will share an extensive breakdown of the problems with school choice measures. While it should be noted that most of the arguments against school choice that I present in this article apply equally to private schools (both secular and religious) and to homeschools, because the Schoolhouse Rocked ministry specifically serves homeschool families, for the most part, I will only address homeschooling here.
“BREAKING: Oklahoma legislature sent Governor Kevin Stitt a bill to fund students instead of systems.
All families will be eligible.
Oklahoma will soon become a national leader on education freedom.
This is the way.”
“’Fund students instead of systems’ is just a euphemism for redistribution of wealth. Government money doesn’t make education free. Oklahoma already has some of the most family and student-friendly education laws on the books, with homeschooling written into the state constitution. We don’t need or want government handouts or oversight. Corey DeAngelis, stop selling soft socialism as a conservative value. Parents, don’t fall for the “school choice” Trojan horse.
Government money ALWAYS comes with strings attached. The cheese in the mousetrap is free for a reason.”
For the first time, after trying to engage Mr. DeAngelis on this topic for years, I was able to get a response from him. His response to my concern; “Schoolhouse Rocked no one is forcing you to take the money.”
While this is true now, I felt it was important to continue the conversation, so here was my response:
“Corey DeAngelis… yet.
This is the camel’s nose in the tent. As more and more families take the money, inevitably there will be calls for accountability measures (testing, safety checks, teacher qualifications, etc.) and curriculum and course of study requirements. These will absolutely be pushed across the board, whether homeschool families take the money or not. We’ve already seen these battles play out in other states and countries.
Coming from California, we understand how enticing the “free money” is. We watched as homeschooling went from mostly privately funded and parent-led to mostly government controlled with the majority of “homeschool” families participating in public charter schools.
“I also appreciate that you didn’t dispute the “soft socialism” and “redistribution of wealth” claims.
The role of government should be extremely limited. There are very few instances of governments taking or spending more money that result in freer or safer societies. This isn’t going to be the first socialist program to succeed. They fail because they are based on faulty premises.
True conservative values are smaller government, lower taxes, more freedom, open markets – with the government’s role being limited to defense, law giving and enforcement for the public good, and upholding the laws of nature and nature’s God. These principles always work.”
““Romans 13 is the heart of the civil government’s jurisdiction. The civil government is to set the stage for the family government, church government, and others acting outside those two governments, to fulfill their duties owed to God. That is, the civil government is to facilitate duties owed to God, not interfere with them.” (Kevin Novak, 2016, Abolition: Overcoming the Christian Establishment on Education)
I was happy to see that in this thread Corey shared a link to the referenced Oklahoma bill he was referencing: Oklahoma House Bill 1934: “Oklahoma Parental Choice Tax Credit Act.” Thankfully, I was already familiar with the bill, and as an Oklahoma resident, I had already had an in-depth conversation with one of our (very conservative) state senators on the subject of school choice. Unfortunately, like so many other conservative politicians, he was partially under the school choice spell and was a supporter of this bill – in spite of being homeschooled himself.
What we need to understand is that government programs grow over time. It’s what they do. What starts today as a voluntary “tax credit” in Oklahoma will always have the lurking threat of ubiquity behind it. Someone will always be pushing to make these programs mandatory – for the sake of the children. And when all school options are government funded, we really have NO school choice, because all school is public school.
While the bill is labeled as a “tax credit,” this is another euphemism, as the bill actually provides government funding for parents regardless of the taxes they pay, and at a graduated level based on household income.
Here was my response to Mr. DeAngelis:
“Corey DeAngelis this is labeled as a tax credit, but most families with school-aged children will get more than they pay, and the “credit” amount is based on household income. This is a welfare program, not a tax credit.”
It should be noted that while Mr. DeAngelis bills himself as a “school choice evangelist” and “educational freedom advocate,” he is actually a professional lobbyist with ties to UNESCO and other large NGO’s and think tanks, including the American Federation for Children, Educational Freedom Institute, Cato Institute, Reason Foundation, and Liberty Justice Center, though it appears that his UNESCO ties have been recently sanitized from the World Wide Web. Thankfully, the Internet has a long memory.
The Truth about School Choice:
By analyzing the term “school choice” within this framework, we can unravel the deceptive nature and danger of these programs.
The Illusion of Choice:
At its core, the term “school choice” replaces the focus on education funding with the concept of “choice,” painting a false picture of increased options, freedom, and opportunity. Advocates of school choice argue that government funds should be allocated to individuals for private and home education, under the guise of increasing educational opportunities for families. However, it is essential to grasp the subtle yet critical distinction: government funding has no real impact on genuine educational choice.
The Illusion of Expanded Options:
One of the primary arguments put forth by proponents of school choice is that it expands educational options for families. However, upon closer examination, these programs often result in a reduction of options rather than an expansion. As governments institute control and accountability measures – which should be demanded every time the government spends money – inevitably, the broad educational freedoms experienced by homeschoolers and private schools are diminished.
Our family witnessed this first-hand. As a flood California homeschool families joined the school choice bandwagon provided by the state’s public charter schools, they found themselves dealing with curriculum restrictions (no religious curriculum), curriculum and lesson plan approval, regular check-ins with charter school “teachers,” testing requirements, attendance reporting and specified minimum attendance rules, and requirements to keep “normal school hours.” It is not a far stretch from these “reasonable” controls to mandated teacher certification and in-home safety and wellness checks – and the slope is very slippery. In states like Georgia and California we have already seen these measures proposed by state legislators (usually in response to highly-publicized abuse cases).
While it would seem that each of these control measures should result in better outcomes for students, in practice we find that none of them result in higher achievement among students. In fact, while I am no fan of no-holds-barred unschooling because I understand that God calls parents to train up their children, multiple studies have shown that unschooled kids – not bound by any of these restrictions or regulations – have extraordinarily positive social, academic, and professional outcomes.
It should be noted that many families choose to homeschool specifically because they want to teach their children from a Biblical worldview. In our case, the primary reason we homeschool is so that we can integrate God’s Word into every subject. One of the first steps each state takes when implementing school choice programs is to require funded materials and curriculum to be secular, thereby undermining the primary reason many Christian families homeschool.
What our family saw first-hand in California illustrated why this requirement alone should be a primary concern for homeschool families. Instead, we saw that the lure of “free money” was enough to cause many families to ransom their values and jump on the school choice bandwagon.
Among the many families we knew who participated in government homeschool charter programs, two main tactics – and a third, less common tactic – were employed to deal with the secular curriculum requirement. Most commonly, families would use two sets of curricula for any subject that they wanted to teach from a Biblical worldview – one approved (and purchased) by the charter and one that they wouldn’t submit for approval. This meant that, in many cases, students were doing extra work to submit worksheets and projects from the approved curriculum before they would do the “real” Science, History, or Bible work from the unapproved Christian curriculum. At best, this represented a massive waste of time, but in reality, it also served to frustrate students and make homeschooling more difficult than it needed to be.
Sadly, what we also saw was that in many cases Christian families would just lie about what curriculum they were using, justifying the omission by saying that what they were teaching their children was no business of the government. While I agree that the government should have no place in the education of our children, this fact doesn’t justify intentional, low-level fraud. American parents are not currently forced to participate in ANY charter schools or school choice programs, so they are not forced to lie when they chose to participate, take the handout, and then ignore the rules of these programs.
Tactic #3 – The ”After Hours” Compromise:
At least in California, there was a technicality that allowed for students participating in charter schools and charter homeschool programs to receive religious instruction: the “after hours” loophole. State law and the charters of these schools stated that religious instruction couldn’t be administered during “normal school hours.” While I’ll save the rant about “normal school hours” for a future article, this meant that Christian homeschool families who abided by this rule could do “regular” school, using “neutral” “secular” resources during the day and then do religious instruction in the evening or on weekends.
This compromise has a few major holes. First, it fails to acknowledge that ALL instruction is religious by nature. Education is DISCIPLESHIP. Education is WORLDVIEW TRAINING. What we teach our children about creation, the LOGOS behind reason, logic, and language, the perfect order of mathematics, God’s work throughout history, who we are as people, and our purpose in the world is explicitly religious. The only question is which religion is being taught.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”Proverbs 1:7
More subtly, to relegate “religious” teaching to after-hours teaches our children that religion and work (“real life”) are separate. What a shame it is to teach our children that it’s perfectly acceptable to compartmentalize our Christianity and only take it out only when appropriate (or approved). As Christian parents our principal desire in teaching our children should be to pass our faith on to them, to teach them the truth of God’s Word, and to train them to live boldly for the glory of Christ “in season and out of season” – in spite of the approval of man or government.
Not Private, Not Independent, Not Parent Led – Not Homeschooling:
On the topic of public virtual charters schools, it should be noted that, technically, while much of the instruction under these programs occurs in the home, these are actually considered public schools. CHEA (Christian Home Educators Association of California) states: “When enrolling in a school-at-home charter school, it’s important to recognize that it is a public school. Your children are independent study public school students and you are subject to the laws that govern public charter schools. You sign an Independent Study “master agreement” with the charter school for each student enrolled (Educ. Code § 51747(c)(8)(A)). The funds that these schools offer you are public tax dollars. In exchange for these funds, there is government oversight across several areas of your home school.” And “When a student is enrolled in a charter school, they are assigned a teacher. The title of this “teacher” varies–teacher facilitator, educational advisor, educational specialist, educational coach–but they are all California credentialed teachers who become the teacher of record in your student’s cumulative file. (Educ. Code § 47605(l))” (Katie Julius, 2019, Homeschooling 101: Public School at Home (How Charters Allow Government Oversight of Your Children’s Education)
Additionally, it should be noted that while these programs mimic traditional home education their methods and reliance on state-approved materials results in poor academic outcomes.
It is for these reasons homeschool support organizations often remind parents that real homeschooling means privately-funded, parent-led, home-based education.
The Illusion of Increased Spending: Lack of Academic Improvement
In spite of the inevitable drawbacks that school choice programs bring, if it were as simple as “more money=better performance,” a decent case might be made for them. In reality, what we find is quite the opposite. When faced with the steady decline of academic outcomes demonstrated in government schools, homeschool families should be very wary of inviting the same government, which has so desperately failed public school students, into their homes.
Over the years, per-student public school spending has consistently increased across the country. Currently, U.S. public schools spend an average $13,185 per pupil annually, with several eastern states spending well in excess of $20,000 per student. (Melanie Hanson, 2022, Education Data Initiative, U.S. Public Education Spending Statistics) Despite the substantial growth in funding, academic outcomes have not been marked by a corresponding improvement, refuting the assumption that increased spending directly translates to better educational results. Standardized test scores, graduation rates, and other academic indicators have not shown consistent advancements aligning with the increasing financial investments made in public schools.
The Need for Fiscal Responsibility:
Given the lack of a direct correlation between increased spending and academic achievement, it should remind us how vital it is to exercise fiscal responsibility when allocating any public funds, let alone when considering applying tax dollars to education. Ironically, it is in this area – and only this area – where I agree with school choice advocates. If public dollars are spent on education fiscal accountability should be demanded.
Since I have no desire to answer to Uncle Sam about how I spend our household’s money I will continue to refuse any school choice handouts or “tax credits.” In theory, I would have no problem with a tax exemption or direct tax deduction for families who homeschool or choose to pay for private school. I would never be opposed to the government taking less of my money to pay for programs I don’t support. However, any scheme that requires homeschool families to register or report to any government agency is going to be a non-starter.
Ultimately though, this just serves as a hypothetical thought experiment, as this option is never seriously promoted by school choice advocates. In the end, all of these schemes boil down to new ways to tax, skim, and spend – repackaged redistribution of wealth with all of the normal bureaucratic fraud, waste, and abuse.
Contrary to the narrative that school choice programs save money, they often result in higher costs for education, both for individuals and the public as a whole. Just as we have seen with colleges and universities, as government funding for higher education has increased through grants, scholarships, and government guaranteed loan programs, college tuition has skyrocketed along with student loan debt. This is the nearly inescapable cycle of inflation. As “free” money is dumped into a system, prices inevitably rise. And as school choice programs increase the cost of education across the board, these increased costs will put an unequal strain on families who don’t qualify for these programs, live in areas where they are not available, or choose not to take the funds.
Administrative Bloat and Expensive Amenities:
We don’t have to guess about what the outcome will be as school choice programs gain ground and the government takes an ever-expanding role in the funding of K-12 education. All we have to do is look at the colleges. The infusion of government funds into colleges led to an increase in administrative staff and the growth of bureaucratic structures within institutions. As colleges expanded their administrative departments, costs associated with salaries, benefits, and administrative operations soared. Moreover, colleges started investing in expensive amenities and non-academic facilities to attract students, further driving up costs.
Additionally, increased college funding discouraged price competition among colleges. When students rely heavily on financial aid and grants, they become less sensitive to the actual cost of education. As a result, colleges have less market pressure to control costs and provide value for money. This lack of price competition and market discipline has enabled colleges to continue increasing tuition without significant accountability, and consequently the real cost for a college education has skyrocketed. The same will be true of private K-12 education costs if school choice programs proliferate.
The Student Debt Crisis – Coming to a Homeschool Near You:
Though we have to venture a bit into slippery slope territory, I think it is important to consider the student debt crisis as a cautionary tale. The escalation of college costs fueled by expanded government funding has contributed to our current student debt crisis – currently a $1.78 billion dollar burden on American families. (Matt Schulz, 2023, LendingTree.com, Student Loan Debt Statistics) As tuition prices have skyrocketed, students (and their parents) have increasingly relied on loans to finance their education. Consequently, students graduate burdened with substantial debt, affecting their financial well-being and future opportunities. It is not much of a stretch to expect a similar situation to arise as homeschool families increasingly rely on government funds – and soon government loans – to be able to afford ever-increasing education costs associated with increased government funding of (formerly private) K-12 education options.
Obscuring Wealth Redistribution:
Behind the euphemistic facade of school choice lies a broader agenda – the redistribution of wealth through socialist policies. While proponents of these programs may argue that they empower families to make educational decisions, the reality is that they divert taxpayer money – extracted by force or threat of force – to a select group of individuals, regardless of the consent of the taxpayers. While the details of every school choice proposal vary, necessarily, the recipient group (parents of school-aged children) is smaller than the contributing group (all taxpayers). Fundamentally, these programs represent the government forcefully taking money from one group to “give” it to another group, bearing the basic hallmarks of any socialist redistribution of wealth or welfare program.
School Choice as a Welfare Program:
When viewed through a critical lens, School Choice programs can be understood as a form of welfare. These programs involve the redistribution of taxpayer funds to individuals to pay for services that they desire but may not be able to afford – though the true issue of affordability is a subject for another article (we have addressed this topic here). Additionally, in many cases, the amounts distributed are based on the recipient’s reported income. This is the definition of welfare.
While school choice proponents argue that these programs empower families with educational options, just like other welfare programs, they also create reliance on government handouts for education. Instead of empowering families to make choices based on their own means and preferences, such programs will inevitably create a sense of entitlement and diminish personal responsibility.
“We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.”– George Orwell, 1984
Homeschool families need to remember that the battle to legalize independent, privately funded, parent-led, home-based education was long, hard fought, and not without casualties. And it was more recent than we might care to remember. Homeschooling has only been legal in all fifty states since 1993.
Over the years we have heard the stories of many families who faced jail time, fines, and the threat of losing their children simply for educating them at home. We had the privilege of sharing Zan Tyler’s story in Schoolhouse Rocked: The Homeschool Revolution. Zan fought for years to make homeschooling legal in South Carolina and through that battle she was threatened with arrest and had to spend a fortune in legal costs, but because of her efforts, and the efforts of many more courageous families like hers, we now have the freedom to home educate in every state. We should be very wary of giving back any of the freedom we had to fight so hard to win.
As we peel back the layers of the school choice argument it becomes clear that no amount of friendly euphemism can cover up the danger of these programs. As enticing as the idea of “free money” is, the real consequences of these programs: diminished options, declining academic outcomes, increasing government oversight, increased costs, and increased dependence mean that every family should oppose school choice, with homeschooling families leading the battle to preserve truly private education.
If you are ready to experience TRUE school choice we have a few free resources to help you on your homeschooling journey.
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Once you’ve joined the homeschool revolution you’ll need regular encouragement and resources to finish strong. Be sure to follow the Schoolhouse Rocked Podcast on your favorite podcast app for new episodes every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
Only have a few minutes? Check out the Homeschool Insights Podcast where you’ll find practical, Biblical, home education and parenting encouragement and resources in under ten minutes a day.
All Bible references are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.