The Suffocating Embrace of the State

During the 2017 Indiana legislative session, there were two Education Savings Account (ESA) or Education Options Account bills introduced. If you are not familiar with state ESAs, they are a type of state taxpayer-funded voucher. IAHE is concerned that home schools in Indiana, which are classified as private schools, are at risk of losing their liberty if they would receive government funding as the lines are blurred between public and private. As IAHE researched this issue, we noticed quotes that said there is a desire to build a new public school system that would include private schools, such as this one, by longtime school choice advocates:

“Any private schools that do participate will thereby become public schools, as such schools are defined under the new system.” [1]

Indiana’s 2017 House ESA bill, known as HB 1591, would have drawn home educators into the publicly funded mix of educational choices. The House author, Representative Jim Lucas, tried to reassure the homeschool community his bill would do no harm since his bill included “protective language.” IAHE compared the language in HB 1591 to the protective language used for vouchers, and it was the same. Here is the “protective language” used for vouchers:

IC 20-51-4 Chapter 4. Choice Scholarship

IC 20-51-4-1 Autonomy of nonpublic schools; curriculum

Sec. 1. (a) Except as provided under subsections (b) through (h), it is the intent of the general assembly to honor the autonomy of nonpublic schools that choose to become eligible schools under this chapter. A nonpublic eligible school is not an agent of the state or federal government, and therefore:

(1) the department or any other state agency may not in any way regulate the educational program of a nonpublic eligible school that accepts a choice scholarship under this chapter, including the regulation of curriculum content, religious instruction or activities, classroom teaching, teacher and staff hiring requirements, and other activities carried out by the eligible school;

(2) the creation of the choice scholarship program does not expand the regulatory authority of the state, the state’s officers, or a school corporation to impose additional regulation of nonpublic schools beyond those necessary to enforce the requirements of the choice scholarship program in place on July 1, 2011; and

(3) a nonpublic eligible school shall be given the freedom to provide for the educational needs of students without governmental control.

On its face, it doesn’t sound too bad, does it? IAHE Action decided to ask parents whose children were in voucher-accepting schools to learn their first-hand experience. They felt the “protective language” still has negative effects on their schools.  According to the EdChoice publication, The ABCs of School Choice, these are the requirements for Indiana voucher schools:

Indiana Code 20-51-1-4

  • Be accredited by either the state board or a national or regional accreditation agency that is recognized by the state board.
  • Comply with health and safety codes
  • Must not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin*
  • Conduct criminal background checks on employees
  • Administer the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress (ISTEP) program and report to the state data for A-F ratings including ISTEP scores and graduation rates

To remain eligible to accept new scholarship students, a school must not be rated as D or F for two or more consecutive years

  • Must grant the state full access to its premises for observing classroom instruction and reviewing any classroom instructional materials and curriculum
  • Provide civic and character education and display related historical documents

* There has been a discussion by a Congresswoman about an Indiana Christian voucher-accepting school and a recent effort in Nevada to broaden this to include gender.

If these are the requirements for private schools to receive voucher students, homeschoolers should expect similar requirements since Indiana classifies home schools as private schools. Strangely enough, few requirements were included in the text of HB 1591. Although it was not included in the language of the bill except as “rules and regulations,” the House author of HB 1591 stated there will be “assessments to make sure the parent is giving taxpayers their money’s worth.” What happens if the State decides they are not “getting their money’s worth?” We do not know because the Code has not yet been written.  

Remember, assessments drive instruction and curriculum choices in order to do well on the high-stakes assessments. Catholic school parents have shared they have seen many changes at their school including using Common Core curriculum in order to do well on the assessments. Did the State say they must use Common Core curriculum? No, but they feel nudged in that direction in order to perform well on the state aligned tests.

The General Assembly changes the law every year. Many times they use incrementalism to accomplish unpopular agenda items. This means they pass a bill that seems good at first, and then each year, more regulations are added. This is what happened with vouchers until Indiana received an F rating on the freedom scale from the Education Freedom Watch Private School Choice Freedom Grading Scale Table because “private” voucher schools must administer the state assessment to all of its students (even those who did not receive vouchers) and collect the data.

Where are we headed? Why would anyone desire a blurring between public and private? This quote from the Hoover Institution ties the current nationalized educational landscape of Common Core and School Choice together:

 A parallel shift in state finance systems toward fully portable “weighted student funding” should be combined with strong performance incentives for schools and pupils alike.

States should also rewrite their compulsory attendance laws to define “school” more flexibly, such that students may satisfy the statute in various settings. (There is precedent for this in the exemptions already given to homeschoolers.) The state’s principal interest should shift from attendance to academic achievement.

As that policy transformation occurs, an authorizing body is needed to approve and monitor schools and other education providers (HB 1591 included parents as providers), but this responsibility need not be confined to traditional public school systems. They ought not to function as both service providers and regulators of their competitors. Instead, independent sponsorship entities—perhaps operating on a multi-state or nationwide basis—should become viable alternatives.

Also needed are independent audit-and-data units responsible for honest reporting on student, school, and district performance across multiple variables: academic, financial, and so on. These, in turn, should be accountable to governors or state auditors rather than education departments; this work, too, might be outsourced to multi state or national bodies.

A spine of national standards, tests, and core curricula is needed to hold all this together, furnishing common goals, metrics, and benchmarks against which the many diverse providers can be tracked and their performance compared across the entire nation and aligned with similar international measures.

The future, in other words, need not result from an extrapolation of present-day trends. It could—and in this realm should—be different and better. But that’s not likely to occur spontaneously.

The Hoover Institution quote should be very troubling to homeschoolers. Homeschool parents, seek to facilitate the equivalent education of their individual students instead of focusing on “achievement” as compared to other students in a traditional school; therefore, enabling the homeschool child to become a fully functioning member of society and not a burden to their family or the state. In homeschooling, “education” may look different for different children and different families at different ending times but it is the parent and not the state that is ultimately responsible for the education of the child. This is why direct government funding of a child’s education outside of the public school is hazardous to our liberty!

Homeschoolers left the public school system for many reasons such as the curriculum, the testing, or the data collection. Do you want to risk getting sucked back into the public system with state ESAs? Parents, you have been doing an excellent job of teaching your children without government assistance. Let’s continue with what we know works and not be seduced by offers of tax dollars with government strings attached. Homeschool liberty is at stake.

 [1] John E. Chubb, Terry M. Moe. Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools. Washington D.C.: The Brookings Institute, 1990: p. 219.

This article is not to be construed as legal advice.

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