Public School Partnerships — The Parable of Two Roads
By Israel Wayne
Imagine a two-lane road. On one end is a large government monopoly that seeks to control every facet of education and eliminate all competition. People who have their children in this system, and many who work for it, are usually oblivious to the perils of such a monstrosity. Or occasionally they see the dangers, but they don’t know how to extract themselves from it.
On the other end of this highway is complete educational freedom. This is what I like to refer to as, “parent-directed, privately funded, family-centric, home-based education.” In this model, parents, not the government, decide what approach is best for their family. One lane leads to control and limited options, the other to unfettered choice.
Along this road are various rest areas. For families who are leaving the brick-and-mortar government school, the first stop may be virtual public (or charter) schools.
Public School at Home
Mary is a single-parent mother, living in the Detroit Public School system. She has two sons, ages 14 and 11. They are constantly being offered drugs, enticed by gangs, and exposed to a terrible social atmosphere; not to mention deplorable school facilities and failing academics.
Mary decides the best path for her boys is to get them out of the harmful social environment of the brick and mortar school, and enroll them in a public school at home. While she needs to work to provide for the family, her mother, who lives in an apartment off their house, is available to be home with the boys during the day. Mary decides that with the accountability from the school system, and physical oversight from her mother, this would enable her boys to at least be home, away from much of the peer pressure, in an environment where she is more aware of what they are being taught during the day.
This model is not considered, by law, to be official homeschooling, even though the academics are being learned in the home. This is still public schooling. However, it is a better form of public schooling. You still can’t use a religious curriculum, and you are still under the state’s requirements and regulations, but at least your children be home in a physical sense.
Public School Partnerships
Another stop along the road is a unique hybrid we have in Michigan called, “Public School Partnerships.” In this model, you are considered to be, by the state, in most cases, a privately-funded, non-public home educator. Many partnerships require that a student take at least two online classes and two seated classes through the local public school district to qualify. In exchange, the partnership student can receive some extra benefit like swimming lessons, band practice, basket weaving (yes, such a class is indeed offered as an enrichment activity!) or horse-back riding.
When a family signs up with a partnership in Michigan, there is no additional regulation to them, other than reporting to the local school district (which is not required for non-partnership homeschooling families in Michigan). Many, or possibly most, families choose not to inform the government of the fact that they are home educating. They do not want to attract unnecessary involvement from a truancy officer or local school authorities. The local school district, in most cases, in exchange for giving out a few small benefits, gets 85% of the total annual funding from the state for that school year. So even in areas where student funding is a low as $10,000 per year (many are over $12,000), per student, the local school district receives at least $8,500 in tax funding for each of these homeschooling students who enrolls.
If I were a school administrator looking to increase my revenues, I’d trade occasional basket-weaving classes for $8,500 all day long! That’s good money for a non-core class or two (all partnership classes must be non-core elective studies)! At this point, many families cannot see any reason not to participate in these programs, and granted, there do seem to be some benefits. Parents get a few activities or classes for which they personally do not have to pay out of pocket.
The problems that I see with partnership programs are as follows:
Funding Government Schooling / Increased Government Spending
Personally, I want to support education that is completely free from government control. When I participate in a partnership, I am supplying my local school district with extra funds, that they do not currently have. I make government bigger, not smaller, when I help local school districts qualify for more tax revenue. I also put a tremendous tax burden on my neighbors, as they must pay for the bulk of my child’s “free” activities. Unless I am personally paying more than $8,500 a year in taxes, I am not fully paying for even one of my children to participate in these programs. That means someone else, perhaps an eighty-year-old grandmother living alone in a house she owns in my neighborhood, is having to pick up the tab. If I have five children in a partnership program, the tax burden my family generates is $42,500 per year. Over ten years, this is $425,000 in additional taxes incurred on Michigan taxpayers for my children to learn a non-core, elective class. If ten of my friends (with the same number of children – some will have more, some less) also do this, that means our little homeschool group of ten families is costing Michigan taxpayers at least $4.25 million dollars over ten years. That’s a lot money to force my neighbors to pay for optional classes.
The thing is, nearly all of these classes can, and should, be taught privately, through local privately funded homeschooling support groups or co-ops. Many parents have expressed that they don’t like have to pay a small fee for these services, or having to volunteer a few hours of their own involvement in exchange for free classes. I guess what comes to my mind is that if it isn’t *that* important to you to invest a little of yourself in this process, why is it so important? Our culture has embraced an entitlement mentality, where we believe that we are owed “free” things, simply because we want them. The problem is, nothing is ultimately free. Someone is paying for these services. If we are not fully funding them ourselves, then the money is coming from people who are being forced to pay for our child’s activities against their will.
Funding Non-Religious Education
While the classes / activities in which my child is enrolled may not be deemed “religious,” the extra tax revenue I generate for the local school district, by having my child participate in a partnership, goes to fund many beliefs that, as a Christian, I do not want to fund. I do not want to fund the promotion of Darwinian Evolution as a worldview. I don’t want to fund the promotion of revisionist history in the textbooks, as the Christian influence in our country is dismissed and/or ridiculed. I do not want to fund the promotion of situational ethics, and moral relativism. Children are taught, with our tax dollars, that the Bible is not a fixed reference point for moral behavior, but instead, everyone can decide for himself or herself what is right or wrong. I don’t want to fund transgender / LGBT propaganda, where young children are taught that sexuality is fluid, there are no genders, and any sexual activity between consenting adults is a moral good. I prefer to defund these efforts, not contribute an extra $8,500 per year, per student, to these causes.
Even if you are a non-Christian, and believe in these ideals, I hope you can see that it is morally wrong to make me fund worldviews to which I am religiously opposed, through taxation. Just as it would be wrong for you to have to fund the forced teaching of my religion to your children through the same means.
“That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions (voluntarily).” – Thomas Jefferson (i)
I recently talked with a mother who homeschooled her daughter until age 15. When her daughter turned 14, she enrolled her in a public school partnership so she could take dance lessons and swimming. Her daughter quickly made friends with other students in the public school, who replaced her former friendships with teens in the private Christian co-op, of which she used to be a part. The daughter requested that she attend a brick-and-mortar public school for her next school year, since all of her current friends attended there. The mother agreed. They are no longer homeschooling.
This is where we see that the educational road goes in both directions. We are thankful for the single mom in Detroit who found a better option for her sons. In this case, however, I am concerned about the fact that a family who was experiencing complete educational freedom, in a Christian atmosphere, is now in a government-controlled school where God is not allowed and where most the students are going in the direction of the world, not of the Lord.
The Future of Homeschooling in Michigan
In many areas of Michigan, there used to be a good number of private homeschooling co-ops and support groups. They provided many of the services currently being offered by public school partnership (or at least different, but similar activities and opportunities). These groups are quickly being replaced by public school partnerships. In many cases, the partnership groups are so all-inclusive, and self-sufficient, that many parents no longer feel a need to be a part of a private group.
As these private groups have disappeared, the grassroots network for homeschoolers, that in times past has preserved our liberties, and secured homeschooling freedoms, is quickly dissipating. INCH has maintained a relationship with many private homeschooling support groups and co-ops, since 1984. When there is legislation proposed in our state that is harmful to homeschoolers, INCH has utilized its communication network to alert families, and request action.
Public school partnerships do not promote the INCH organization or our annual Michigan Home Education Conference (in Lansing, the third weekend each May), nor are they supportive of our desire to see homeschooling freedoms for private homeschooling families, preserved and protected. INCH provides year-round legal watch over the state legislature in Lansing. Most average families do not have time to watch over all of these educational bills to see if any of them would be harmful to home educators. This is a service that INCH has always provided for all homeschoolers throughout the state. Most of the revenue to fund these efforts comes through profits generated at our annual state homeschooling conference and $30 annual membership opportunities in INCH.
For over three decades, INCH has had a thriving relationship with private, local groups who encourage, equip and train new homeschoolers, and new group leaders. Those leaders, in turn, continue to grow home education throughout our state. As the influence of public school partnerships increases in Michigan, an alarmingly high number of homeschoolers are now looking to the government as their source for homeschooling information, activities, support and opportunities. This is tipping the balance of homeschooling away from privately-funded (and therefore educationally free), parent-led groups and activities, to those that are supplied (and therefore controlled) by the government.
Future Government Control?
As more and more families move away from completely parent-directed home education, towards the government-funded model, where will this lead the homeschooling movement in the future? Michigan has enjoyed one of the freest legal climates concerning home education and parental rights in the United States. Our desire, at INCH, is to see this continue. For our freedoms to be preserved, parents across the state are going to have to recognize the value of privately-funded education, and the freedom that accompanies it.
I was recently a speaker in Alberta, Canada, where homeschoolers and private schools have received government vouchers for homeschooling curriculum and activities for many years. Homeschoolers there have been eager to use these government funds because there were almost no extra requirements imposed on them. But in 2016, in a draconian move, the Albertan government has mandated that all schools (including homeschoolers and private schools who take government money, which everyone does in Alberta, because you homeschool exclusively through either the government or private academies), must teach a transgender / LGBT curriculum. The two largest private schools, who have thousands of homeschooling families under their umbrella, were both shut down by the Canadian government. That means all those families are now homeschooling illegally.
For the past twenty years, some homeschooling leaders have insisted that there should be a private homeschool exemption law passed in Alberta, so that parents could home educate free of government control, but no one saw the need because the system of Socialistic education they have used as homeschoolers worked so well, and required no extra regulation. Homeschoolers became dependent upon the government to the point that the government has now brought all the homeschoolers in their province back under their thumb through a government monopoly. Whoever pays for the education controls it. That is the lesson that history has proven time and time again.
The initial increase in requirements and regulations, will, of course, be applied to families who are part of the partnerships. The question is, will there be enough non-partnership families, who see the value in organizations like INCH, to fund the private, non-public schooling movement? Or will most be assimilated into public school programs to the point that there is no one left to effectively fight the important legal battles that will keep private homeschooling legal and unregulated in Michigan?
Which Way Are You Headed?
I would encourage you to consider which direction you are headed on this educational road. Are you moving towards, or away from, parent-led, parent-controlled education of your children? Are you helping the government to grow larger, or are you supporting local, private groups that share your faith and values? How important are these extra “freebies,” for your child’s future? Can your goals and objectives be met without resorting to a government-controlled system of forced redistribution of wealth?
We know that this is an issue on which many homeschoolers disagree. There are strong feelings on both sides of this issue. It is my hope that charity will prevail and that we can extend kindness to people who may not be at the same “Rest area,” on this journey that we are. I hope that you will choose maximum liberty and freedom for your family, which I believe history has proven comes only through private funding. In the end, we know that parents who love their children make different choices, and we won’t all agree. I am grateful for you giving me a hearing on this matter, and trust that you will give careful prayer and Bible study on this matter to see what God would have you do.
i. Thomas Jefferson is considered to be a primary author for “A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom,” June 18, 1779, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-02-02-0132-0004-0082.