Since homeschooling became legal in Indiana, Hoosier homeschoolers have enjoyed very limited regulation. We’ve also accepted full financial responsibility for the operating costs of our own homeschools, even though that financial burden comes in addition to the income and property taxes that we pay to support Indiana’s public schools.
Back in 2011, the Indiana state legislature voted to allow homeschooling families a $1000-per-child tax deduction. This change came with no alteration to our freedoms, and no change to our involvement with governmental oversight.
But another change may be on the horizon, with greater consequences. According to a recent IAHE blog post, Maintaining the Integrity of Home Education, our state might soon be offering Education Savings Accounts, or ESAs, to homeschooling families. Read the linked article, to learn the function of ESAs and the inevitable changes to our freedom that would result from such contracts.
It’s important for all of us to ask two important questions before accepting such a sea change in how private, independent Indiana homeschools are funded! The first question is, “What is to be gained?” The second question is, “What is to be lost?” If ESAs become the norm for Indiana’s homeschooling families, I do not believe it will be a small change. Nor will it benefit us as much as it will benefit the state! I think this is potentially a very bad deal.
To use a biblical analogy, I’ve decided that ESAs may be a mess of pottage, and I don’t want to be Esau. (Genesis 25) Esau thought he couldn’t survive without a bowl of stew, so he traded his birthright, a legal contract guaranteeing his family’s inheritance, for lunch! He didn’t have to starve. He was a hunter, just home from the woods and fields. He was a man of the wild, who knew how to find food. But he failed to value what he had in the birthright. He despised it, the Scripture says, and gave it all away. Jacob, who would go on to become Israel, was still in his role as “deceiver” (which is what his name meant). He fooled his brother into trading something precious for something comparatively worthless.
If we take these ESAs, we may be making the same mistake as Esau. We think we can’t afford to homeschool, so if we can get some help with expenses for curriculum and materials, microscopes, computers, or classes, we’ll be able to afford home education. We want the free lunch because we can’t see how we’ll ever survive without it.
But here’s where the deceit comes in: Materials are not the big, insurmountable expense of homeschooling! The real reason we’re all worse off financially is that we’re all dealing with diminished income, if not the loss of an entire second income so that one parent can be home to supervise the children’s education.
No amount of government aid offered will ever make up for that. There will never be a handout large enough to level us all back up to the full-time, double-income lifestyle we chose to let go in order to prioritize our children’s education at home. The amounts offered in an ESA will cover material costs only. It is not true that ESAs will make anyone able to afford to homeschool.
So why would we take that offer? Why, when we’ll still need to live frugally and make sacrifices on less than two full-time incomes, and so much of the materials necessary for homeschooling can be cheap to free? Why would we take the money, when the money comes with strings?
The costs of an ESA are registration, data tracking, acknowledgment to the state that we don’t think we can do this alone, and worse, tacit admission that we think we benefit from (or are at least not harmed by) government oversight of our private family homeschools.
Those are very big costs.
I think if we consider the history of homeschooling, we’ll see that such a giant step backward is not a step we can afford! Indiana’s pioneering homeschoolers of the 1980s would be astounded to learn that we’d even consider giving up so much, in a single motion, for so little in return.
Homeschooling freedoms were hard-won by those parents of another generation. I believe it would be harder to win new freedoms now if we were to make a mistake and have to backtrack. A far better strategy would be to retain the freedoms we already have.
That first generation of homeschooling parents gave us another key, beyond holding the line for freedom: They showed us that we should network, and support each other. Our new style of homeschooling co-ops, with hired teachers and a school environment, do not provide the relationships and mentoring opportunities inherent in the support groups of old. Co-ops can be very expensive (costing thousands of dollars per family per year), causing homeschoolers to believe that homeschooling is an unaffordable venture.
We may need to go back to the old way, and start supporting each other for free again. Veteran homeschoolers can still teach the new homeschoolers how to find affordable materials, how to teach effectively, how to balance parenting and housework and school, how to raise families frugally…we have all of these experienced homeschoolers in Indiana, standing ready to help with friendship and advice. These relationships are a two-way street; many of our veteran homeschoolers are still going strong, teaching their youngest children at home, and we need the energy and enthusiasm of the younger families, as well.
IAHE has provided a network to help us all find each other, but it is under-utilized. Please consider contacting your IAHE regional representative to see how you can get involved with other local homeschooling families. If we need help and encouragement to take responsibility to homeschool within our budget, let us turn to one another and not to the state.
Let’s reject the bowl of pottage, and keep our birthright as Hoosier parents operating private, independent, free homeschools. We have done without ESAs and government oversight for many years, with great success. Our freedom to continue with independence is too precious to give away.
Amy Hopkins Raab is Mike’s wife and the mother of four sons. They’ve enjoyed homeschooling since 1999.The earlier years were more fun but the latter years have been the most rewarding, as the parents are watching the teens learn the way they wish they’d been taught: At home, surrounded by family and music and the best books, and with Christ as the center of all. Academic excellence is a primary focus of the Raab family homeschool, but true wisdom comes from God. (James 3:13-18)