VaHomeschoolers' annual survey has shown that Virginia's home educators are divided on the subject of homeschool tax credits.
Read the points below, and decide whether you are pro or con.
State Education Tax Credits – Pro
by Milan Kobulnicky, Woodbridge
“Every family in Virginia, regardless of income, ethnic background, and teaching abilities, should be given at least the financial tools to allow them to be successful outside of public education if that is their choice.”
Government support and involvement in homeschooling has both divided and united the homeschool movement on many issues such as approval of curriculum, testing, access to public education classes, provision of textbooks, and now tax credits. This focus of this article is to discuss points in favor of government tax credits for the costs families have in homeschooling their children.
Homeschool parents all have different backgrounds and capabilities for teaching and financing their children’s education. One family’s strength, such as income level, can be another family’s difficulty or impossibility.
“The Scholastic Achievement and Demographic Characteristics of Home School Students in 1998” (Lawrence M. Rudner, Ph.D.) reported the median amount of money spent in 1997 on educational materials for homeschool students (4th and 8th grade) was about $400. I would opine high school level classes, especially for science, technology, and math would challenge this $400 budget in just laboratory set up. Homeschool families also have a higher median income ($52,000 in 1997) than the median income of all American families with children ($36,000 in 1995). The homeschooling community contains a smaller percentage of racial minorities (6%) than public schools nationally (32.8%). If homeschooling is to become more diverse in regards to minorities and lower income families, government support is one alternative to give choice to these families.
Costs to homeschool a child vary with the grade level, subject being taught, skill level of the child/teacher, and education option. Enrolling in more expensive, formal, non-resident programs such as Calvert, the University of Nebraska, or local community colleges or employing tutors can present major costs to homeschoolers, who are mostly single-income families. Individual classes in these programs can cost roughly $100 to $300 not including classroom/lab materials. A full schedule can cost over $2500 per school year. Taxpayers pay roughly $7200 per student for the average Virginia public school according to the Family Foundation. State and/or Federal tax credits could readily save the taxpayers the difference between the $7200 and the tax credit. This would reduce the numbers of students in public education and allow more funds per student in public schools. Per capita funding of public education is based on several criteria, and none would be adversely affected by education tax credits.
Every family in Virginia, regardless of income, ethnic background, and teaching abilities, should be given at least the financial tools to allow them to be successful outside of public education if that is their choice. One cannot dismiss the costs of forgoing a second income, as many of Virginia’s families need two incomes to make ends meet.
Why should homeschool families have to pay twice (taxes and homeschool costs) and get nothing in return for their taxes? We all support public libraries with tax dollars, and even though we maintain libraries at home, the public library does not punitively exclude us if we go to check out a book. Likewise we support public roads and state parks and forests, we are not excluded from those public services even if we choose to do something on our own. But with rare exception the public education system does exclude homeschoolers from partaking of tax finances programs and services. For that reason alone tax credits are appropriate.
I believe homeschool families are more independent than other families, and often in debate they seem to not recognize the needs of other homeschool families before asserting their own independence from government involvement and support. Because they themselves can either afford to provide the class or have the ability to teach it, they desire to deny those options to other families who are less fortunate. I value both sides of this debate—those who can be totally independent and those who would welcome support and assistance in the form of education tax credits. I encourage those who “can” to be gracious to those who “cannot” and have needs.
©2001 Milan Kobulnicky. All rights reserved.
Home Education Tax Credit? No, Thanks!
by Shay Seaborne, Woodbridge
“It is imprudent for homeschoolers to grab at the tax credit carrot without making due note of the heavy stick poised to hit us with further regulation.”
Before supporting a home education tax credit, we homeschoolers need to fully understand the legislation and its potential to benefit or harm us. As Will Shaw, VaHomeschoolers’ esteemed co-founder often says, “A measure that sounds good in theory is not necessarily good in practice.” While the idea of a tax deduction for homeschool materials may be appealing, consider that any government plan comes with requirements and restrictions.
Virginia “homeschool” tax credit bills have included government definitions of bona fide homeschooling expenses, through the bills’ clarification of what constitutes the physical elements of a valid home education program. When a law serves to define homeschooling, it creates a means to further regulate it, and who defines homeschooling has the power to control homeschooling. For that and other reasons, a child tax credit would serve home educators—and other families—better. A child tax credit would not discriminate against any particular type of homeschooler, would not affect home education regulations, and would allow all parents the freedom to choose what expenditures will best meet their family’s needs.
Home education, as limited to the definition in prior tax credit legislation, with its description of “academic instruction,” does not include participation in music or art programs, and physical education is completely excluded—as are items that many parents feel are integral to their homeschooling program and philosophy. Excluded are expenses for music lessons, museum memberships, travel expenses, tools, computers, programs, and Internet access, among other educational items. The bills clearly defined specific qualifying items, while leaving the door open for bureaucrats to determine what comprise acceptable “other written materials,” and “educational supplies and materials.” Specific materials identified were “textbooks, workbooks, curricula used for academic instruction tutoring fees or a home school correspondence school.” These articles effectively defined a certain type of homeschooling style—a structured, school-like approach—as the model for a qualifying method. The terminology limited who can take advantage of the tax credit, and rewards only those who fit the government’s narrow definition of homeschooling. Furthermore, legislation that offers tax breaks for only certain types of home educators can serve to divide the homeschooling community. We need to focus on measures that benefit homeschooling in general, rather than on one that would serve just those using a particular method.
The stated intent of the 2001 tax credit legislation was not to “result in any additional regulation.” This appeared to be protective, until one scrutinized the loophole framed by the wording, “except to the minimal extent necessary to provide for the prevention of fraud and the efficient administration of the credits.” The exception created substantial room for bureaucratic interpretation of what constitutes “necessary” requirements. Government officials don’t have an inkling about homeschooling, and are usually not looking out for our best interests. In regard to home education, the bureaucrat’s favorite buzzword seems to be “accountability.”
A common argument in favor of a tax credit is that homeschoolers should be relieved of “paying double” for education, because they shoulder the expense of materials while paying taxes that support public schools. However, many people—single, married, or elderly—do not have children in schools, and still pay taxes that support public education. Like libraries, roads, and parks, schools are simply part of the public service infrastructure, serving many and paid for by all. Opting not to use them does not remove the obligation to finance public facilities.
Supporters of a home education tax credit may claim that no family would be required to take a tax credit, so it can’t harm objectors. However, such legislation is likely to attract increased monitoring, as illustrated in the 2000 and 2001 Virginia General Assembly sessions. During each session, an amendment involving Standards of Learning (SOL) testing was attached as an apparent backlash against the promotion of a tax credit bill. The 2000 amendment would have affected all home-educated students, not just those of parents who filed for a tax credit.
Two years in a row, the point was proven in the Virginia General Assembly: an education tax credit beckons demands for increased “accountability.” It is imprudent for homeschoolers to grab at the tax credit carrot without making due note of the heavy stick poised to hit us with further regulation. Of course homeschooling families would like to have more money, but when regarding a home education tax credit we must ask, “to what cost in loss of our freedom?”