Homeschoolers are abuzz with discussion over the suggestion that Republicans may be introducing legislation to give a federal tax credit to homeschoolers. While nothing has been proposed to date (do a search at http://thomas.loc.gov/), it is worthwhile to examine the pros and cons.
In this economy, who wouldn’t favor a tax break from a government that seeks to support and control virtually every aspect of modern life? Besides, the argument goes, we all pay taxes and we should be in line to be the beneficiaries of the unfunded largess of the lawmakers. Everyone else is doing it ….
From a larger perspective, it is a common ploy of the Federal government to dangle a carrot in front of states for funding. The states that comply, such as the recent Race to the Top campaign, receive huge sums of money from the government. But, the funds, as always, are tied to an expectation. In the Race to the Top, participating states had to agree to adopt Common Core Standards, an effort to have a common curriculum across the states.
But, you say, this isn’t really funding – it’s a return on taxes we have already paid.
True, just like every other deduction you take on your Income Taxes, such expenditures would have to be documented. In our view, this leaves the door open for inspection and approval. It is a foothold that we cannot allow the Federal government to establish.
For comparison, three states allow parents to take a deduction on their State income taxes for homeschool expenses. In my state (Illinois) I have taken the deduction and have been subject to questioning and requests for extra documentation each year I have sought it.
What the state allows, it can also regulate. Let’s examine another state benefit available to some homeschoolers. In a highly touted program, parents in Minnesota can seek a small textbook reimbursement for their homeschool expenses. The amount is paltry compared to the amounts most parents actually expend. Look at how the regulation is worded:
“Textbook” means any book or book substitute which a pupil uses as a text or text substitute in a particular class or program in the school regularly attended and a copy of which is expected to be available for the individual use of each pupil in this class or program. The term shall be limited to books, workbooks, or manuals, whether bound or in loose-leaf form, intended for use as a principal source of study material for a given class or a group of students. The term includes only such secular, neutral and nonideological textbooks as are available, used by, or of benefit to Minnesota public school pupils.
By statute and by definition, they only offer textbook assistance for secular, neutral and nonideological textbooks as are available, used by, or of benefit to Minnesota public school pupils. Some homeschoolers could qualify, but many would not.
We oppose Federal tax credits for homeschoolers based on our experience with all such programs. In sum:
1. Education has been and should remain a matter for the states, not the Federal government.
2. Funding (whether outright or in the form of tax credits) comes with expectations. Is it too far to imagine the accountability that might be required for such a tax credit? Common standards and standardized testing are two burdens which come directly to mind.
3. A tax credit would require documentation.
4. Documentation leads to scrutiny and the authority to deny or dismiss unless certain conditions are met, such as requiring only secular materials.
While we are all looking for a break in this economy, this break is too costly to the freedoms and individuality of homeschoolers. Thanks, but no thanks.