Texas’ “trust-us” system for homeschoolers may worsen a voucher feeding frenzy
It is believed that the number of home-schoolers has increased in Texas since the onset of the pandemic and the temporary diversion of public school students into online learning from home. The public school enrollment of 5.4 million children in 2021-22 had started to recover but was still lower than it had been before the pandemic struck during the 2019-20 school year.
Some of those missing students may simply have dropped out. But the Texas Homeschool Coalition estimates that as many as 750,000 Texas kids are now taking school lessons at home, a marked increase from the pre-pandemic days.
This makes the renewed push for school vouchers even riskier for Texas taxpayers and their underfunded public schools. Some homeschoolers, as well as private school operators, are eager for the chance to get their hands on tax-paid vouchers. Voucher access apparently is a priority of the Texas Homeschool Coalition, and some pro-voucher advocates seem eager to accommodate them with their “parental freedom” and “money-following-the-child” rhetoric.
Until 1994, the Texas Education Agency considered home schools illegal. That year, the Texas Supreme Court, ruling in a lawsuit called Texas Education Agency v. Leeper, ended a long legal battle and held that Texas parents had a right to educate their own children. The court held that a home school was legitimate if parents used books, workbooks or other materials and met “basic educational goals” by teaching at least these five subjects – reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics and good citizenship.
Taking tax dollars from public schools to help families pay tuition for their children at unregulated private schools is bad enough. But arguably, giving tax dollars to homeschoolers is even worse because there is no guarantee that every family that claims to be teaching its children at home is actually doing so.
I know of dedicated homeschooling families whose children have gone on to earn college degrees. But Texas doesn’t require any measurement – not even a standardized test – of how well home-schooled children are being taught – or even if they are being taught. Homeschoolers are exempt from the state’s compulsory school attendance law, and parents don’t have to notify their local school districts of their homeschool intentions. They are required only to withdraw their children from public school if their children already are enrolled.
Several years ago, El Paso ISD tried to investigate a homeschooling family after relatives complained there was little, if any, evidence the parents were teaching their children anything except their religious beliefs. After the parents sued the school district, the Texas Supreme Court sided with the parents without addressing the most important issue: Do homeschooling parents have to prove they are properly educating their kids?
As far as the state of Texas is concerned, they don’t. This will only encourage fake “homeschoolers” to try to join the feeding frenzy for a share of our tax dollars if lawmakers create a voucher system to their liking. The most effective solution is for lawmakers to kill all voucher plans.