How much is the selling price of freedom?
For homeschooling families in Alabama, it may be around $7,000 per student based on recent Educational Savings Account (ESAs) bills introduced by lawmakers. Although proponents of school choice claim that ESAs could bring an unprecedented cash flow of support to homeschooling families, many are concerned about the fact that they could also bring unprecedented government oversight.
Homeschooling families who fought to win their freedoms over the last several decades are generally skeptical of ESAs. But newer homeschool families are often unaware of that fight. For them, homeschooling has become just another mainstream alternative to public schools. They are less concerned about government control over curriculum or testing because avoiding that possibility was not their main reason for choosing homeschooling in the first place.
But whether these new homeschooling families are aware of it or not, that same freedom is essential to why homeschooling is so successful. Thus, it is imperative that any introduced ESA legislation protects homeschooling freedom here in Alabama.
The concerns about ESA impact on homeschool freedom are not without reason. “If you get taxpayer money, you have to show there are minimum standards being met for what’s being taught,” Sally Smith, Executive Director of the Alabama Association of School Boards, recently told Birmingham’s WBMA 33/40 News. “We think that is absolutely critical.”
This would be a step back for homeschool freedom in Alabama. Parents currently have great freedom in deciding how to meet their individual children’s needs without having to worry about tests or curriculum standards. Those freedoms could be greatly reduced once the door opens for legislators to discuss how to assess homeschoolers and set minimum standards. This could especially impact children who are gifted or have special needs, reducing parental flexibility to teach them, and forcing them to spend time on testing and paperwork that have no positive impact on their child’s progress.
Even families who are not concerned about homeschooling freedom could be impacted. In recent years, many families have chosen homeschooling because the public schools have failed their children in academics, safety, or mental health. In many of these cases, the flexibility and freedom of homeschooling is what makes this education option so helpful for a family. A parent can choose to address their child’s needs immediately, without burdensome government intervention. Although government money might be of help to many homeschooled students looking for special therapies or resources, sacrificing the freedom of homeschooling to do so limits the ability of homeschooling to be the exact option that many families need.
ESA legislation must protect this one form of education from government funding and control.
It’s important to note, however, that many homeschool families are not against ESAs as a whole. We would simply like to see legislators clearly define homeschooling, giving it a legal status kept separate from the ESA program in order to protect independent homeschooling from government oversight.
Ideally, we would also like to see a separate legal classification offered to homeschool families who would like to access ESA funding. That way, further regulation would only affect the homeschoolers who choose to opt into the ESA system, leaving the rest of the homeschooling community out of those regulations. This would salvage homeschool freedom so that it remains a powerful choice for families who truly seek to educate their children independently, while still giving space for other non-traditional education choices to thrive in an ESA-funded economy.
Sarah Sanchez is a former public high school history teacher turned homeschool mom of four. She works with Clean Up Alabama and also serves as leader of Government Affairs for Alabama Homeschool Alliance, a grass roots homeschool parent group, where she works to inform elected officials and homeschool families on issues that impact homeschool freedom.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News.
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