Bigger than Campaign Promises: Homeschooling, Tax Credits, and Politics in Virginia

A candidate in the 2013 Virginia lieutenant governor’s race has attempted to appeal to homeschoolers by pledging his support for homeschool tax credits and a candidate for governor has allied himself with the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), a prominent national organization that happens to be headquartered in Virginia.

The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers (VaHomeschoolers) would like those candidates, the media, public educators, and the general public to understand that homeschoolers do not all favor such tax credits – many staunchly oppose them.  It is important to understand that homeschooling families have a wide variety of beliefs, alignments and commitments – just like the public in general.

VaHomeschoolers’ Position on Partisan Politics and Non-Homeschooling Issues

Since its founding in 1993, VaHomeschoolers has been an inclusive, statewide homeschooling organization.  Vital to our mission as an inclusive homeschooling organization that serves all Virginia homeschoolers, regardless of religion, political affiliation, homeschooling style, economic status, family structure, etc., is our unwavering commitment to avoid any and all involvement in partisan politics and any political or social issues. VaHomeschoolers only lobbies and advocates on topics, questions, issues and proposals that are directly related to homeschooling and to protecting the freedom of Virginia families to choose home education for their children.

This commitment to avoiding partisan politics and non-homeschooling issues is absolutely central to our ability to serve all homeschoolers, and is reflected in our Bylaws and Constitution, which state that we will take “no position on religion, partisan politics and non-homeschooling issues…”

Some other homeschooling organizations, at the local, state and national level, do involve themselves in political campaigns and in non-homeschooling issues. VaHomeschoolers was founded out of the recognition that such organizations could not serve all homeschoolers, because homeschoolers have a wide variety of viewpoints and convictions on political, religious and social issues – on every issue other than homeschooling, in fact. What unites homeschoolers is our desire to educate our own children, even though our reasons for choosing home education are different and our methods of providing home education vary from one family to another.

Homeschooling Stereotypes Can Harm Homeschooling

VaHomeschoolers believes that association by homeschooling organizations with partisan politics and non-homeschooling issues harms homeschooling.  Such association and advocacy can create and reinforce stereotypes of homeschoolers as having only a limited range of social and political viewpoints. When these stereotypes are reinforced, people hear “homeschooler” and presume they know “all homeschoolers’ positions” on a checklist of political, legislative, and religious positions, when, in fact, homeschoolers are not monolithic.

Homeschooling stereotypes can lead to misunderstanding of and even antipathy towards homeschoolers among legislators, political candidates, public education leaders, the media, and the general public.

Homeschooling stereotypes can deepen the divide between the homeschooling community and Virginia’s public school leaders and advocates – a divide that need not exist, since many homeschoolers support public schools and have friendships and community ties with families who choose public school – in fact, many homeschoolers do choose public school at some time during their children’s educational paths.

Homeschooling stereotypes can undermine legislation aimed at helping homeschoolers, and can even lead families who might be considering homeschooling to disregard the option because they believe they might not “fit in” with and find support from homeschoolers in their area.

VaHomeschoolers’ Neutrality on “Parental Rights” Legislation

VaHomeschoolers’ commitment to avoid involvement in non-homeschooling issues leads us to take a neutral position on some issues that other homeschooling organizations support – or oppose. For example, recently the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) has pursued legislation aimed at enshrining “parental rights” in Virginia’s constitution (they have pursued similar legislation in other states as well). Homeschooling families have a variety of viewpoints on such legislation.  Because this legislation is not related to homeschooling specifically, but is related to parenting more generally, and is associated with a broader political agenda vis-à-vis international treaty law and U.S. sovereignty, VaHomeschoolers must remain neutral.

VaHomeschoolers’ Neutrality on Homeschool Tax Credits

Because our legislative positions on topics that are specifically related to homeschooling are guided by our annual member survey, VaHomeschoolers also takes a neutral position on the issue of public funding of homeschooling via tax credits, tax exemptions, or any other financial vehicle. Our members have clearly indicated to us that they are deeply divided on this topic, for a variety of reasons. One argument offered by homeschoolers who favor tax credits is that, since the choice to homeschool directly reduces the financial burden on the local public school system and increases the financial burden on the homeschooling family, it is fair to share some portion of the local tax fund to support those children who are educated at home.  On the other hand, homeschoolers who oppose tax credits argue (among other perspectives) that any proposal that would provide homeschooling families with public funds ultimately will also likely expose families’ choices of home education programs, materials and curricula to public scrutiny and regulation.

VaHomeschoolers cannot take a position that serves all homeschoolers when homeschoolers hold strong opinions both for and against homeschool tax credits. (Should our survey results indicate a shift toward broad agreement, our legislative position would then be clear.) Read more about the arguments for and against tax credits.

From Governor’s Race to the Broader Understanding of Homeschoolers

The 2013 Virginia Governor’s race sets the agenda for this discussion because a gubernatorial candidate has aligned himself with HSLDA and and a candidate for lieutenant governor has taken a pro-tax credit view painted as having universal support by homeschoolers in Virginia, which it does not. However, it’s also a timely reminder that VaHomeschoolers needs to say, once again, that homeschoolers have a variety of views on legislative issues, and they hail from many different religious, political, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

[ed. note: This article has been updated to better clarify that attempts to appeal to homeschoolers and seek their election support have been made by two separate candidates: a candidate for lieutenant governor (E.W. Jackson) has made statements in support of homeschool tax credits, while a candidate for governor (Ken Cuccinelli) has allied himself with representatives of HSLDA.]



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