Let’s see if Kristi Noem will vote to put money in my pocket….
The new GOP majority in the U.S. House includes some members who would like to give homeschooling families a tax break. The New York Times is hosting a discussion on the topic, wherein the Home School Legal Defense Association says a $500 homeschool tax credit would encourage parents to get involved in their kids’ education. Education reform guru Chester Finn says fine, but you don’t get federal money without jumping through federal hoops, like requiring homeschool kids to take more tests. And that prospect sets off the Cato Institute’s Constitutional alarms.
Professional teachers receive a similar tax credit. When I taught at Montrose, the Educator Expense Deduction shaved another $250 off my taxable income, as compensation for books and other educational materials I used on the job. If we offer this compensation to teachers working with the support of a school district, can we justify offering the same compensation to parents doing the same job mostly on their own?
Even though we plan on homeschooling our daughter for at least a few more years, my wife and I still believe in supporting the public school system. We oppose vouchers, in part because they don’t make sense in rural South Dakota (and Rep. Kristi Noem agrees), but in larger part because they drain money directly from school districts and threaten the solvency of the public school system. Some folks have no problem with dismantling public schools,but we recognize that a free society requires free schools for the majority of citizens who either cannot afford to have parents stay home to teach full-time or who simply aren’t intellectually equipped to do so (seriously: how many of you parents could quit work, go home, and teach high school literature, algebra, history, and foreign language?).
A federal tax credit for homeschool does not directly subtract money from local school district budgets; it just leaves a little more money in the pockets of parents who’ve already chosen to pull out of the public system. But it still reduces the support that homeschool parents provide for public goods that they and their children still rely on for their education. Homeschoolers use public libraries and museums; they attend concerts and cultural events supported by public money; they drive on roads to get there.
A homeschool tax credit should set off conservative and liberal alarm bells. The credit opens the doors for federal regulation of homeschool via the IRS. I would think that prospect would kill the idea among my conservative friends. And given the religious motivation of many homeschool parents (my wife and I are in a distinct minority here in Madison, choosing homeschool for purely secular rather than spiritual reasons), my liberal friends can go ape over the potential of federal tax credits subsidizing religious instruction. Mix those two, and politically, the homeschool tax credit looks like it goes nowhere.
If we really think homeschool is a good idea, we might support it better by leaving Uncle Sam out of it and focusing on changing state law. Give local school districts their full per-student allocation for homeschoolers, and in return give homeschoolers full access to all resources of their chosen district.
I won’t complain much if Rep. Noem votes to send more money to help us educate our daughter. But a homeschool tax credit doesn’t doesn’t sound like the best way to do that.