While President Donald Trump champions “school choice” on a national level and Governor Greg Abbott pledges to sign such a bill into law should one make it to his desk, some Texas homeschoolers question one piece of proposed school choice policy before the Legislature, Senate Bill 3.
To no surprise, public school loyalists, lobbyists, and teachers unions, decry SB 3, written by Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Galveston). They assert school choice undermines traditional public schools and diverts public taxpayer dollars away from their coffers to fund K-12 private school tuition with “vouchers.” Representative Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) vowed to block school choice bills from getting heard by the House Education Committee he chairs, although he raced to unveil a $1.6 billion school financing bill for public schools and open-enrollment charters.
Homeschoolers who oppose SB 3 do so for very different reasons. The bill contains education savings accounts, or ESAs, and tax credit scholarship options but only offers a limited ESA provision to homeschool children born on or after 2012 and entering kindergarten or first grade, or attended public school the year before.
Homeschool parent Monica Garza shared mixed feelings about this kind of bill. She told Breitbart Texas, “It would be nice to be reimbursed for the several hundred dollars spent on legitimate curriculum, however, I do not want to be forced into specific curriculum or standardized testing.”
Longtime homeschool parent and Texas Home Educators board member Nita Davidson feels “SB 3 is just the beginning of opening regulation of homeschoolers by letting the government get a foot in the door to private education.”
Homeschool grad James Travis said he did not fear “the slippery slope” but expressed concerns of state regulation thwarting hard-fought homeschool freedoms. Other parents said they just wanted to be left alone. Many thought they would have to enroll their children in public school for one year to meet ESA eligibility. One believed school choice was a globalist plot.
“There is nothing in this legislation that is detrimental to homeschoolers,” said Tim Lambert, president of the Texas Home School Coalition. Despite parents’ fears, Lambert underscored there is no requirement that children must attend public school for a year prior to homeschooling for ESA eligibility. Also, SB 3 contains language specifically forbidding new regulations on homeschool students:
A private school voluntarily selected by a parent for the parent ’s child to attend or a parent who homeschools the parent ’s child, with or without governmental assistance, may not be required to comply with any state law or rule governing the applicable educational program that was not in effect on January 1, 2017.
“We (THSC) asked for the language that is in the bill to clarify nothing in this bill can be used to hurt homeschoolers and private schools,” said Lambert, adding the state cannot regulate or tell homeschoolers what curriculum or learning materials they can use. “Schools are accredited, not curriculum.”
Unlike private and parochial schools, Texas codified homeschooling as non-accredited private school which means the Texas Education Agency (TEA) does not regulate or govern it via state compulsory public education laws. If a family uses ESA dollars for curriculum, the state has no say in what they choose, said Lambert.
“Under the bill as written,” the state cannot tell homeschoolers what curriculum to use, concurred Darren Jones, an attorney with the national advocacy organization Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). By email, he told Breitbart Texas, “The bill’s authors were careful to scribe protections and distinguish ‘accredited’ private schools in their proposed legislation, which they are doing in all of the session’s school choice bills.”
HSLDA opposed SB 3, calling it a state funded “subsidy program” that moves away from homeschool freedom and toward more government control. Jones said they objected to the bill “for reason of prudence and principle” and based on “what could be changed by subsequent legislatures.”
In his response to Breitbart Texas, Jones cited HSLDA VP James Mason’s quote: “Once homeschools become publicly funded, more scrutiny and more control are likely to follow. After all, homeschool families will be spending public money, and the state has a keen interest in guarding the public fisc.”
Jones said HSLDA “has historically supported lightening the tax load for homeschool families” via tax credits. He referenced the Minnesota program.
Conversely, THSC, Texas legislators, and Texans who support school choice view SB 3 and other similar legislation as a means to transfer power from government to parents in the decision making process for their child’s education.
“We are about empowering parents to make decisions for the education of their children,” said Lambert. “In the 1980’s when we followed the Leeper case, we had the same kind of reaction as we are having today.” He recalled how homeschoolers statewide debated and pushed back, insisting the lawsuit would hurt their freedoms. Many felt the lawsuit would result in regulation. Lambert said, “They were wrong.”
A short video on the THSC website, “Legacy of Freedom,” retraces Texas homeschooling history from when the TEA banned home education in 1981 to the 1985 Leeper v. Arlington lawsuit. It ended with a unanimous 1994 Texas Supreme Court decision that legalized homeschooling. Today, Texas ranks among the most favorable U.S. states for home education.
On Tuesday, Taylor will hold a hearing for SB 3. The public is encouraged to attend and testify.
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